The Telegraph
Thursday , November 1 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Leh plants a lakh saplings in an hour

Srinagar, Oct. 31: Leh, the “cold desert” with a population of around 1.5 lakh, saw 99,013 saplings being planted in 53 minutes on Monday.

“The mass plantation drive took place over 26 acres of land and our forest department provided the technical support for that,” said Sonam Dorjey, the range officer, Leh.

A world record was set in the Philippines last year when 7,000 volunteers had planted 64,096 saplings in 15 minutes.

At the remote Hemis village, 45km from Leh town, around 10,000 volunteers participated in Monday’s drive.

“We also want this place to be known for greenery. That is why you had so many people participating in the event who came from far-off places in the district,” Dorjey said.

Rigzin Spalbar, chief executive councillor of the Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council, said the drive was the initiative of spiritual leader Gelwang Drukpa Rinpoche. Around 1,500 monks and nuns participated, he said.

“It isn’t easy to grow trees here because that needs a continuous water supply for which we had constructed a canal before this fresh drive was launched,” Spalbar said.

“But we achieved this success because people here are motivated enough to see this happen.”

The effort betrayed the eagerness of the residents to shed the “cold desert tag”. Leh’s forest cover is a fraction of one per cent of its total area.

Ladakh conservator of forests Jigmet Takpa said Leh — the country’s largest district with an area of 45,110sqkm — has a forest cover of a just 110sqkm.

By comparison, 8,182sqkm of the total 15,948sqkm in the Kashmir Valley — or over 50 per cent — is officially under forests. The actual forest cover would be less because the Valley has seen ruthless destruction of forests in the past 20 years with illegal felling of trees and encroachment.

In Leh, however, Takpa said, “people are very determined to have more trees, so much so that every year our department plants some three lakh trees here but the locals on their own plant double or triple that number of trees”.

Planting trees is easy in the desert but they have to be nurtured throughout their lives, he added. “A lot many people are willing to do it here.”