Some nature lovers are often considered crazy for their relentless passion to conserve and protect the environment. While nature conservation might be a weekend hobby for some, there are others who care deeply for the subject and make it their whole life.
This Nainital-resident, who has given up a full-time job to dedicate his life to protecting the forests of Uttarakhand, is an epitome of what passion can lead you to do.
Chandan Nayal, from the remote Nai village of Uttarakhand, quit his lecturer job in 2016 and returned home to plant over 12,000 trees to revive the forests of the region. He also took up water conservation activities.
“I completed my diploma studies in electronics from Rudrapur in Udham Singh district in 2014. The district is about 170 km from the village and I interned in the travel sector and later took a lecturer’s job in the same college,” the 26-year-old says.
Chandan says that he has always shown an inclination towards nature.
“I have seen nature getting destroyed since childhood. I remember running with the villagers to extinguish forest fires in pine trees. The frequent forest fires also impact small forest plants and biodiversity,” Chandan laments.
A personal loss
The former professor says that the small natural water ponds used for cattle grazing also dried up over the years.
“During my teenage years, I got involved in nature conservation activities like planting trees and understanding the ecology of the area. I learned that forest fires also cause deforestation, and it is crucial to allow the natural regeneration of forests. Also, more oak and deodar trees native to the geology are needed,” he tells The Better India.
But it was in 2010 that Chandan lost his mother due to a prolonged illness.
“The incident left a big void in my life. I felt depressed and lost in life. While grieving, I often left for the mountains and forest areas to find peace. The time spent under the shade of trees brought me closer to my purpose,” Chandan says.
Since then he got more involved in nature conservation activities around his native village.
But living away from home for work meant limited time to invest in environmental causes.
Passion for nature
Chandan could only get involved in protecting forests during his vacation period. Many villagers also questioned his dedication. “If you want to work so much for the village, why don’t you stay and continue instead of working and doing it part-time? They used to ask,” Chandan recalls.
Driven by his conviction, in 2016, he quit his job and decided to dedicate his time to increasing forest area in the region.
But going against the village trend where youth migrate to cities like Delhi for better job opportunities, he faced a lot of opposition. “Everyone mocked me. Villagers said this is not the way to behave. People thought I was crazy and nothing would come from protecting the environment. Some people said that forests existed even before humans and they will continue to survive, we do not need to do anything to conserve it,” Chandan says.
However, he relied on his 50 nali farm, a measure used to calculate land to earn Rs 10,000 a month.
“I understand that money is very important. But my passion for protecting the environment is more satisfying,” Chandan adds.
Research before action
Continuing his work, Chandan met environmentalists like Sundarlal Bahuguna, Anil Joshi, Sacchidanand Bharati, Jagat Singh Chaudhary, Kalyan Singh and other experts to seek guidance.
“I realised there was a need for mixed, diverse forests and planting one species of trees won’t work. So I took up Deodar and Bharuch trees as well to plant in schools, empty spaces and private individual land with due permissions,” Chandan says, adding that watching his effort, more nature lovers started joining him.
With no funds in hand, Chandan took the support of the forest department for saplings and also for designated spaces to grow trees. Dinkar Tiwari, divisional forest officer at Nainital forest range, says, “I have seen Chandan’s work sincerely for three years now. We provide free saplings and even transport them to locations as this youngster does not have funds.”
The officer adds that over 10,000 saplings have been provided to Chandan so far.
However, Chandan along with 120 other volunteers have planted over 12,000 trees in the village and surrounding areas. “We have distributed close to 30,000 trees across villages of Uttarakhand and a record is kept to ensure that trees are traced and that they grow in protected spaces. Many people now know about our work and demand saplings for plantation,” he adds.
Critics turn admirers
Chandan has inspired other neighbouring villages like Almoda, Kujeti, Supi, Chakuta, Aghariya and others to plant trees.
He adds that the COVID-19 pandemic helped villagers understand the importance of nature better. “Many residents returned home and got back to farming and other activities. People started realising how much they depend on forest wood, nature and water,” he adds.
Through his research, he also found that 30% of water sources and streams have dried up. “During the lockdown, we created water ponds in the forest area and worked to revive some of the dried water sources,” Chandan adds.
Dinkar says the work done by Chandan is commendable. “We get paid to conserve the forest, but this man is doing it without any returns and no financial support. Chandan is invited, for various awareness programmes of the department,” he adds.
“We are planting trees but, more importantly, we need to protect the existing forests. As humans, we are heavily dependent on nature, and people should realise that” he concludes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)