EVERY YEAR, hundreds of schoolchildren return home after attending World Environmental Day celebrations on June 5. But rarely do they get as inspired as this teenager in Himachal Pradesh’s Sirmaur, who is turning barren land into lush green fields — one tree at a time. Jai Chand, 17, is a resident of Bhangadi village, 90 km from Nahan, the district headquarters. Getting there requires a journey by road, and a 30-minute climb up a steep mountain. It’s here that this Class 11 Arts student of Government Senior Secondary School, Nohradhar, has spent the last three years trying to reverse the impact of deforestation.
It started as a small initiative when Chand, then in Class 8, planted trees along the roadside, in the school compound and on his family’s land, which had been lying barren and would yield nothing except fodder grass. The initiative prompted his father, 57-year-old Ram Lal, owner of 10 bighas of land, to pitch in. Today, Chand stands amid more than 100 surviving trees, a mix of fruit and forest trees like deodar, walnut and apple.
“I didn’t have to spend any money and managed everything within our means. I used to get plants from forest nurseries or the horticulture department. I would go to the forests to search for small saplings, bring them home, and plant them in my field or other vacant spaces. My father helped me. I used to monitor the growth of each sapling and carry out minor protection work so they survive,” says Chand.
Soon, his passion motivated students at the Government High School, Chokar, where he studied till Class 10, as well as students at his new school in Nohradhar to plant hundreds of trees on the campus. Chand’s teacher, Surinder Pundeer, has even made a short documentary on him, which he hopes to share with other schools. “Because of him, the number of students doing voluntary tree plantation has almost doubled,” says Pundeer.
Chand, who has six siblings, has not undergone any formal training in tree plantation and doesn’t have any expertise in tree varieties. But he knows this: “Plants and forests are the best source of oxygen, important for the survival of the future generations.”
The student maintains no record of the trees he plants, and does the bulk of his work during monsoon, when digging holes is easier and there is no need for watering. In April, Chand wrote a letter to the director of the environment, science and technology department in Shimla, about his drive. His name was then recommended for a special honour under the Environmental Leadership Award, making him the state’s youngest winner — the honour was presented by the Chief Minister last month.
Says principal secretary (forest and environment) Tarun Kapoor, “People usually do such work by seeking grants or donations, but he did it on his own.”Chand, meanwhile, has his sights set on a bigger goal. “I hope to take up an
administrative job and embark on a larger plantation plan, like one billion trees,” he says.
First published by The Indian Express