Pradeep Kumar Rath always had different plans for his retirement. When most planned vacations and spent time with family, he decided to work for the environment.

After serving as a Deputy Chief Labour Commissioner in the East India division, in 2017, the 66-year-old started an NGO called ‘Paribesh Suraksha Abhijan’.

“My conscience told me that after serving the country for so many years, it was finally my time to give back to the environment,” he says to The Better India.

Through his NGO, Pradeep has planted over 60,000 trees in rural parts of Odisha.

Apart from that, he has incubated 40,000 women and children from rural backgrounds who sow and preserve these trees.

While his initial plan was to work in urban areas, it was a friend and a former DG of the forest department, Sidhant Das, who shed light on the need for environmental education in rural areas.

“They link climate change to Gods and religion. They are practically unaware that the environment is in danger. They don’t know the importance of nature conservation,” he says.

He decided to involve school-going children in his work and received a warm welcome from headmasters and students.

Pradeep spread the message of ISR ‘Individual Social Responsibility’, asking children to be environment warriors and save trees.

He conducted seminars and planted trees at various schools near Bhubaneswar like St Xavier School, DAV school, and Central School in Puri.

For the upkeep of the trees, he approached the village women and Self Help Groups (SHG).

“We provided them with one fruit-bearing plant like guava, lemon, mango, etc and asked them to plant and take care of them. The result was great; all the trees survived,” he says.

He also encouraged the women to name the trees after their children and grandchildren, so they feel more connected and responsible for the upkeep.

“The day the ‘individual social responsibility’ becomes ‘community social responsibility’, and people come together as one to save the environment, I will rest easy, and my job will be done,” says Pradeep.