Solo Performances

Besides the communities who have done exemplary work in the field of environment, several individuals are making a difference in the lives of many people in various parts of India. Some of them, who were brought to Down To Earth's notice during the process of choosing the best environmental community for the Down To Earth-Joseph C John Award, are:

Published: Sunday 30 April 2000

Solo Performances

Obensao Kikon (63) belongs to Wokha district in Nagaland. An 'ardent jungle burner' at one time, his stint as the chairperson of the Market Federation of Nagaland changed his outlook. Thereafter, there has been no looking back. His 615-ha land in Wokha is full of teak and bamboo trees. He encourages plantation of short-rotation species to help the local people meet their fuelwood demands. Besides, he also heads the Kimpvur Valley Multipurpose Cooperative Project Society comprising three villages. His aim: to enhance the living standards of poor people.

Ranjit Kumar Pattnaik (38) is a household name in Angul district of Orissa. In 1988, he went on a padyatra across 600 villages in Angul to raise awareness about the importance of natural resources. Pattnaik established the Youth Association for Rural Reconstruction, initially aimed at fighting against pollution of the Brahmani river by industries. Pattnaik has also been instrumental in forming village organisations to save forests and sanctuaries in the state.

E R R Sadasivam is the owner of a 'tree museum' in Elur village in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu. Spread over 30 ha, the museum houses 100 tree species whose inhabitants include hyena, wildcat, jackals and peacocks. But when he inherited this property in 1950, it wasn't all that green. He started work in his land and forced villagers to do the same. Now 112 villages are his beneficiaries. And all their barren land has been converted to woodlands. All this, without any financial help. Profit is not his motive. Happiness lies in making people understand the value of trees, he says. A 'national asset' is what his peers have to say about him.

Moulana Iftikhar Hussain Ansari,a politician, a businessman and now the 'Green Maulvi' of Jammu and Kashmir. As minister for housing and urban development, he has been credited with establishing the J&K Lakes and Waterways Development Authority in 1997 to preserve the Dal lake. Hampered by a massive fund crunch, there has only been a marginal change in state of the lake. But de-weeding process has been started with some success. Cleaning the Dal is a dream but Moulana firmly believes he can tide over the current problem soon. And once, the glory of the Dal is restored, he plans to start cleaning the Jhelum river.

Rakesh Trivedi (50) is a multi-faceted personality. A professor of zoology, director of the eco-estate faculty of the Centre for Environmental Protection, Research and Development in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and a contributor for Nai Duniya, a Hindi daily. His obsession with trees has also earned him the title 'Tree Man of Indore'. So far, he has planted 6,000 trees in the city alone. But that's not enough. He believes he has to plant many more trees, God and 'people willing'.

C R Shanmugam is a civil engineer by profession. He works as a project consultant for Dhan Foundation, a Madurai-based ngo. He has revived 20,000 300-1,000-year-old water tanks. They are now managed by people in villages across Tamil Nadu. The tanks recharge groundwater besides ensuring water for irrigation. "A man with a vision and wisdom" is what people say about him. But, in all humility, Shanmugam believes he is "only a cog in the wheel".

Narayan Hazary (63) is an ardent believer of the Panchayati Raj system. He is involved in advocating the concept of 'village democracy' in Kesharpur village in Nayagarh district of Orissa. The list of his achievements is endless: started a village-level school in 1954; set up the Despran Madhusadan Library in 1957; established Pragati Shishu Sangh, a children's organisation; and from 1972 he spearheaded the Buddhagram Environmental Movement (bem) to regenerate the forests. bem was aimed at regenerating the green cover of the barren Binjagiri forest and Malati hills. The forest and the hill are finally regaining their cover. Meanwhile, Hazary teaches political science in Nagaland but remains the guiding force behind all activities in Kesharpur village.

Roland Martins (37) is the driving force behind Jagrut Goenkaranchi Fauz, perhaps Goa's most effective grassroots organisation. He has led many protests against unsustainable tourism projects. One of his notable campaigns has been against the government's plan to freeze a 75-80-km stretch of coastal Goa for 19 luxury hotels. The plan was eventually scrapped. Then there was Operation Cold Turkey against drug traffickers and Operation Blockaids to spread awareness about aids. Despite many successes, Martins remains a foot soldier, literally for he uses public transport and figuratively for his perusal of the mission.

Premjibhai Patel (67) had to go to Mumbai for work in 1975 but the fast-paced lifestyle and a desire to do something meaningful perturbed him endlessly. Finally, he returned to his village Bhayavadar in Upleta block of Gujarat. There he brought about a revolution of sorts. One that showed people that the answer to the fuelwood problem in the arid region was growing more trees. This also solved the problems of erosion and water shortage. Now, he is concentrating on the construction of traditional check-dams in Upleta.

Tiameren Aier is a former state minister for industries and also owner of teak and rubber plantations in Mokukchung district of Nagaland. He is involved in educating people about the adverse effects of jhum (shifting) cultivation. He has also started a college, where he plans to introduce environmental awareness training. He wants farmers and drop-outs to enrol into the college to avail of the basic environmental education. Unfortunately, not many in his hometown are aware of the 'green face' of the former politician.

Shamjibhai Jadavbhai Antala (62) has many names - Pied Piper of Saurashtra, rainmaker, one-man army and messiah. He has accomplished the impossible in a land with a history of severe water scarcity, hostile climate and rocky topography. He has ensured that the fields remain green by teaching people the importance of rainwater harvesting. "The success rate," says Antala, "is counted by the awareness level and here it is 100 per cent."

Pandit Punyadhar Jha alias Bol bam (81). A resident of Andhra Tharhi village of Madhubani district in Bihar, the octogenarian has spent a good part of his life planting trees. Jha has planted a record 10,000 trees in various districts of Bihar till now. And plans to continuing doing so in the future. His knowledge bank: the Agni Puranas, which detail traditional plantation methods. His motto: one tree is equal to 10 sons.

R S Jamir (67) is the first Indian Police Service officer from Nagaland. More importantly, he is the co-founder of the Luzheto Welfare Society, a social forestry organisation. After the demise of the other founder, Hekiye Sema, in 1998 he has been carrying forward the work single-handedly. Though restricted to Luzheto village, his work in regenerating the barren lands has helped people live off the forests once again. As a sign of gratitude, villagers have named a hill after him. "He was at the right place at the right time. We can never thank him enough," says a villager of Jamir.

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