While travelling, the barren and dry patches on the outskirts of Kundalgaon village near Manmad always bothered Devidas Chaudhari, a retired government official. So he decided to change the picture.
“Since my childhood until pursuing commerce in Manmad college in the early 1980s, I always commuted between the six-kilometre patch from Kundalgon to Manmad. I always felt the stretch was unwelcoming and dry,” Devidas said.
Over the next few years, Devidas competed in the state civil services exam and joined the district administration office at Malegaon. But two decades on in 2007, the officer, then a sub-district magistrate in Malegaon, still could not get away from those visions of dry areas with no greenery or trees along that old stretch.
“The North Maharashtra region falls under the rain shadow area, and water scarcity is an issue. I felt that something needed to be done. After a few days of thinking, I decided to plant trees and convert the area into a green zone,” Devidas said. He felt that the greenery might help increase the groundwater table and bring some freshness in the area.
The first step was to collect information from various sources to identify the possession of the land. “I found that some part of the land belonged to the forest department, and remaining was with the revenue department. The total land was about 200 acres under their jurisdiction in different proportions,” he said.
Devidas said he took the necessary permissions from the concerned departments in the revenue department where he was posted and planned a drive.
“I requested some colleagues and officials from other departments to join the cause. We collected Rs 56,000, to plant 10,000 trees,” he said.
An area of about 15 acres was selected along the slopes of Chondi hill. “The slope also has a valley-like shape, and it was decided to plant trees in the area,” he said. “I had a firm belief. No one should plant trees for posting them on social media or for the sake of popularity. I have been strict about it since the first day,” Devidas added.
Trees were planted once again, in smaller numbers, in the following years as well. “The mortality rate is as high as 30 per cent, as the region is dry, and having a regular water supply is a task. On summer days we managed to water the plants three times a day,” Devidas said.
“Many of the trees survived, and about 16,000 trees have successfully grown over a decade bringing a soothing view to the eyes,” the retired official said.
Devidas said that considering the arid region, plants with fewer water needs and shrubs were also grown.
“Thorny species were also selected to protect the trees from cattle. The problem of plant damage due to cattle grazing is huge in the area,” he added.
Looking at his efforts, social groups, farmers, and even the forest department joined hands for the cause.
“Inspired by the efforts, the forest department also planted trees in 50 acres of the land,” he added. To increase the survival rate and assist in groundwater table increase, the villagers also build natural check dams to enable rainwater to percolate in the ground.
Devidas said the trees were also planted along river streams in the village, farmlands and schools. “There are about 250 fruit-bearing trees along with the farms. Having mango trees has become popular, and the farmers have realised that canopy of the trees give shade and help protect crops from the scorching summer heat,” he added.
The official retired in June this year and plans to take his cause to a larger scale. “There are about 50,000 people influenced in the area. We plan to take up the plantation of another 5,000 trees in the next few days, Devidas said.
Bhikaji Padmane, a member of pensioners association in Manmad, said, “We are all retired officials from different government departments, and we plan to increase awareness on planting native trees and increase the green cover in the area,” he added.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)