CHENNAI: Vijayabhaskaran is another example to prove that not all heroes wear capes. The 67-year-old tree warden — a public official in charge of shade trees on public town lands — has planted close to 150 saplings in and around Alwarpet to try and restore the green cover the area lost after the fury of Cyclone Vardah. The numbers may not be staggering but when you take into account the limited space in a congested city like Chennai, it would indicate his conviction and determination.
While he is used to putting his hands to good use — he is a tailor when he is not planting saplings in and around Chennai — he has gone over and above his calling to replenish the greenery. Though an officer of the State forest department (appointed two decades ago), he spends money out of his pocket to protect the environment.
“Every month I set aside Rs 3,000-Rs 5,000 to buy new saplings of rare trees that we do not find in the city anymore. Whenever I spot an empty space either on a sidewalk or near a house I make a mental note to plant a sapling there the next day,” he informs TNIE. Over the last 20 years, he has planted more than 10,000 saplings in parts of South Chennai. An average of 500 trees per year may not count for much but considering the hurdles he has to jump (lack of finances and no support from the local body), his contribution can’t be measured in numbers.
He doesn’t stop there. His pet projects include planting fruit-bearing tree saplings in neighbouring villages like Palur in Kancheepuram. “Last year, I took close to 50 students from Anna University to Palur. We planted 100 saplings in four hours. The saplings I planted 10 years ago now give the villagers a variety of fruits like mango, guava and coconut,” he beams.
His best work gently sways to the tunes of winds all over the city. Through an environmental NGO, Exnora’s tree-planting division, he has planted 350 tree saplings in 13 bus terminals across the city, at two temple tanks in Mylapore, close to 1,000 saplings in multiple city colleges, parks and along numerous footpaths at Kottupuram, Teynampet, Boat Club, RA Puram and neighbouring localities.
While he has planted more than 25 varieties of trees, he takes special care to plant native species like Poovarasu, Badam, Maghizham and Vembu, which are known for their resistance to natural calamities. He has also roped in students from NSS wings of many colleges in the city to assist him in the planting process. The next time you come across a rare or exotic tree in the city, you can thank Vijayabhaskaran, the unassuming senior citizen who plants and safeguards trees for a living.