In 1974, 18-year-old Himmataram Bhambhu would spend his days keenly observing his grandmother plant a Peepal tree in his ancestral village, Sukhwasi in Rajasthan. Around 14 years later, it had fully grown. When Himmataram saw how this tree was giving shade and oxygen to the residents of the village, he had found his life’s purpose.
Now, some 30 years later, as lakhs of trees and thriving ecosystems across Nagaur district stand tall and firm thanks to his efforts, Himmataram stood in front of India’s President Ram Nath Kovind to receive the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civil honour, on 8 November.
He received this honour for his efforts to provide a safe habitat for birds and wildlife by planting over three lakh trees across his district. For his selfless endeavour, he even took a loan in 1999 to purchase 34 bighas of land in his drought-prone village of Harima so he could build a mini forest of 16,000 native trees.
In a state where poaching activities are rampant, and where illegal smuggling of peacocks, blackbucks, chinkaras and other animals serves as a livelihood for many, Himmataram has been at the forefront to eliminate the issue in his district.
In a conversation with The Better India, he recalled, “I first learnt about farming and planting trees from my grandmother Naini Devi, who always said there is nothing more virtuous than planting trees. It felt like it was possible only due to the inspiration of my grandmother.”
“I have grown about 400 trees of rain-fed Khejri and native acacia in my six bighas without any extra cost. We also have kumt, neem, native plum, gunda, rohidha, khajuria and jalki. Although the cost of planting trees is not much, maintaining them is really challenging,” said Himmataram, who is a farmer by profession.
His selection of trees is also praiseworthy. Considering the arid state has always faced issues pertaining to water scarcity, he chose trees that are dependent on rains.
Additionally, the trees have also immensely contributed to keeping the groundwater tables balanced in Nagaur district, which has 45,000 borewell connections for farming purposes. Himmataram says in a scenario where farmers are turning a blind eye to the excessive use of machines to draw water, trees have silently been harvesting rainwater for decades.
Himmataram has also been leading the legal fight against poachers. He has been instrumental in putting 16 poachers behind bars out of 28 cases. He uses his own savings to fight the cases and also tends to injured chinkaras and peacocks.
For saving the lives of more than 1,570 injured animals and birds, he has received state awards like Rajiv Gandhi Environment Protection. A book has also been published on him titled ‘Himmat Ke Dhani Himmataram’, which was released by Union Minister Prakash Javadekar in the Parliament House.
Featured image source: President of India/Twitter
Edited by Divya Sethu