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Festival of Trees and Plight of our Forest

Photo: Forest Dept., Manipur

The core idea of Van Mahotsav is not just to plant a tree, but also to nurture it throughout its lifespan.

By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

 Every July, since 1950, thousands of saplings are planted throughout India in observance of Van Mahotsav, a festival of trees. The history of Van Mahotsav Day dates back to 1947 when it was first organized by Punjabi Botanist MS Randhawa from 20 to 27 July. The then Delhi Police Commissioner Khursid Ahmad Khan inaugurated the first event of Van Mahotsav on 20 July 1947 to stress the impact of deforestation on flora and fauna. A flourishing plantation drive was undertaken by national leaders like Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Jawaharlal Nehru. Since then, the tradition of celebrating Van Mahotsav and planting trees has continued. In 1950, it was declared as a national activity by the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Kanaiyaka Maneklal Munshi. Later on, the festival was moved to the first week in July and was renamed to Van Mahotsav in 1950.This movement was started, as an attempt to spread awareness regarding the perils of deforestation and to restore the forest cover of the country, one plant at a time. Over the years, this venture has gained momentum and the Van Mahotsav in India is now celebrated in several parts of the country as a week-long festival, typically falling in the first week of July. Individuals, communities, and organizations do their bit for the environment by planting trees of different species in their locality. These tree plantation drives aim to help reverse global warming and pollution and to educate the population regarding the benefits of preserving the forest cover of the nation.

India is a land of revolutionary environmentalists who have devoted all their energy to restoring the greenery of the country. One such enterprising individual is Padama Shri Jadav Payeng, the man who single-handedly grew a forest on the once barren sandbar of the Brahmaputra River. Payeng is living proof of the fact that if you have the determination, you can make a huge difference to the planet with just your own hands and an undying spirit. Another role model when it comes to conservation of forests is Dr. Anil Malhotra, who has created India’s first private wildlife sanctuary, spanning over an area of 300 acres. The Sai Sanctuary is an excellent example of how one man’s vision to change the face of the planet can actually provide shelter to so many different species of plants and animals. If these environmentalists can transform treeless lands into forests then so can you. It all begins with planting just one tree in your backyard.

Remember, the core idea of Van Mahotsav is not just to plant a tree, but also to nurture it throughout its lifespan. This is why Van Mahotsav in India is observed in the monsoon season because the rains create a favorable environment for the plants to survive in the soil. Among all the fun and frolic of the rainy season, this is one of the monsoon activities that will ensure that the country continues to receive a fair amount of rain in the decades ahead.Tourdefarm supports Van Mahotsav and appeals to all agr-itourism center and farm stay owners to participate in the event and contribute to tree plantation throughout this monsoon season. Let us make our farms greener and create sustainable ecosystems that can thrive and flourish to provide nourishment to the future generations. Adding tree plantation drives to the list of monsoon activities at the farm stay will not only add to the beauty of the farm but will also motivate the tourists to play an active role in environmental preservation.

The dwindling number of rainy days and increase in the intensity of precipitation events raises serious question on the increasing developmental activities taking place at the cost of cutting a large number of trees. India has long been vulnerable to floods, droughts, heat waves, cyclones and other natural disasters and this trend is increasing with each day. India today is facing a much bigger challenge of deforestation, which further exacerbated by the ever increasing population. This is resulting in industrial as well as agricultural expansion thereby exerting great pressure on land resource. The impact of this is felt most on the forest, which is being ruthlessly cut down and is most threatened around the fringes. Wildlife living in on these forest resources is also facing the heat and human-wildlife conflict in India today is more than it has even been in the last 70 years. However, a large section of the society remains unaware of these challenges being faced by the forest and wildlife of India. With continuous human intervention against nature, these disasters can no longer be considered ‘’Natural’’. An immediate example that comes to our minds is that colossal event that has occurred recently in Uttarkhand, which claimed the life of thousands of tourists and left many stranded. To further highlight the importance of trees, we can take example of dense mangrove forests growing along the coastal areas of our country which helped in reducing the devastating effects of Tsunami in 2004. They absorbed the oncoming waves and protected a large number of human habitations.

The Van Mahotsav, festival of trees is a beautiful initiative to save the environment, to which we owe a lot. Generally, native trees are planted as they readily adapted the local conditions, integrate into eco-system and have a high survival rate. Besides, such trees are helpful in supporting local birds, insects and animals as well. Van Mahotsav week is celebrated in India to encourage people to plant more and more trees as they are being cut down on a large scale for industrialization and urbanization. Trees contribute to the production of food resource, maintain ecological balance, improve air quality, climate amelioration, conserve water, preserve soil, support wildlife, reduce drought and prevents soil erosion and pollution. Deforestation is a worrying concern and Van Mahotsav week aims to bring more and more people together to grow and save forest. Reports suggest that regions having a high population density and high forest cover were not much impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. During this week, many organizations like The World Wildlife Fund and Amazon Watch are fighting hard to promote afforestation and create awareness.

The government organizes various plantation drives at various levels to encourage people to plant trees. We can also do our part. Van Mahotsav can be celebrated by planting more and more trees every day and by telling more and more people to do the same. One can stop buying products that are produced or made by destroying forest and avoid using them. Plant tree at your homes, school, office and college and take part in various awareness campaign. Initiative like the free circulation of trees can also be taken up by various volunteers and organizations. Workshops can be conducted in schools to teach children about the need for planting trees and how it helps in preventing global warming and reducing pollution. We can also practice the 3R rules and lower the need for raw materials from trees and forests. The tribals of India are the rich source of knowledge and many tribals groups are in fact the guardians of the forest in which they dwell. This makes them important in our efforts to protect the forest and frontline soldier in our fight against environmental degradation. On the seven days of Van Mahotsav, we can ensure that we learn about at least 7 tribal groups inhibiting India on each of the 7 days. This will give us a rich reintroduction to our country and will also enrich us culturally. Van Mahotsav therefore needs to go beyond planting trees and include forest awareness and education as a part of this splendid festival. After all, we cannot fully celebrate what we don’t fully understand. Forest awareness will help citizens become more aware and sensitized about the forest resource on they depend. It will also help raise awareness of the plight of our forest, the declining number of wildlife and help initiate action for the overall protection of the biodiversity. Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky. Let us join hands and save mother earth by doing this small contribution.

(Writer can be reached at: [email protected])

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