Crore reply to 5 lakh saplings

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By NALIN VERMA in Patna
  • Published 31.08.09
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Patna, Aug. 31: Spurred by a desire to beat Pakistan, Bihar has planted one crore saplings on a single day, engaging three lakh people under the rural job scheme.

Islamabad’s environment ministry had made it to Guinness World Records by planting 541,176 saplings on July 15. The Indian reply was nearly 20 times better and has ensured three years’ employment for three lakh elderly villagers, who have been tasked with protecting the saplings after planting them yesterday.

The project was spread across 7,500 villages in six districts in north Bihar’s Tirhut division.

Tirhut commissioner S.M. Raju, the man behind the mission, told The Telegraph: “As soon as I read about Pakistan’s environment ministry getting the Guinness certification, I planned to beat that record.”

The IAS officer from the Karnataka cadre added: “I discussed the blueprint with chief minister Nitish Kumar and chief secretary Anup Mukherjee, who readily approved it.”

Mostly aged people were chosen for the project since it involved light work, with groups of four families each planting 200 trees. Now they must protect the saplings for three years, till the plants grow sturdy, during which they will be paid 100 days a year under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

The workers will get the full pay (the minimum wage is a little above Rs 100) if they can ensure the survival of 90 per cent of the plants under their care. For a 75-80 per cent survival rate, they will be paid only half the wage. If the survival rate is less than 75 per cent, the families in the group will be replaced.

“This project has given us a new life. We had never thought we would get employment at this age,” said farmer Laliteshwar Prasad Sahi, 61, in Sandha village, Muzaffarpur district. “We will do everything to protect the plants under our care.”

“These families already seem to feel as if the trees they are protecting belong to them,” Raju smiled.

While non-fruit-bearing trees such as the neem, arjun, jamun, gulmohar and peepal were planted along the state and national highways, fruit-bearing ones such as the guava, mango, lychee, lemon and amla were planted in the villages.

“The exercise has served society in many ways besides promoting social forestry in north Bihar’s landscape, which is fertile but deficient in forest cover,” Raju said.

“We are preparing the video clippings and pictures, and working out the statistical details to be submitted to the Guinness office.”

Raju, an agriculture graduate, had caught Nitish’s eye after successfully organising the chief minister’s Vikas Yatra (development march) ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in March.

“The venture has the support of lakhs of people in our division,” said a senior Bihar legislative council member, Jagannath Rai, who belongs to Tirhut.