Polio didn't stop this TN man from becoming a passionate environmentalist

The seeds of activism were sown early in the mind of Sathish Kumar, who lost both his legs before he turned one, to polio.
Sathish Kumar, an environmentalist, during one of his plantation drives. (Express)
Sathish Kumar, an environmentalist, during one of his plantation drives. (Express)

TIRUPPUR: For Sathish Kumar, the cradle of life was not gilded. For someone who lost both his legs before he turned one, to polio, there wasn’t much to look forward to, while growing up. But little did he know that he would be blessed with a green thumb, that had enough sheen to blanket the parched turfs of the world.

“My father, Karuppasamy, runs a waste cloth godown in Avinashi. When the polio drops worsened my health, they took me to several hospitals spending lakhs of rupees. I was supported by my friends and relatives, easing the scars of the past,” the 39-year-old recalls.

The seeds of activism were sown early in the mind of Sathish Kumar. He joined a private school in Kangeyam, where he met eminent environmentalist Karthikeya Sivasenapathy and his father Sivasenapathy Gounder.

“The father-son duo were inclined towards social causes. As a result, the school curriculum inculcated a life of discipline, activism and environmental development, among others, in the syllabus. They guided me on volunteering and instilled a sense of purpose in me. The feeling of giving back to society gave me unmatched joy and made me commit to social work,” says Sathish.

It was in 2014 that he decided to start afforestation drives in Avinashi and other areas of Tiruppur district. Sathish and his friends planted around 700 saplings in the premises of Avinashi Boys Higher Secondary School in 2016, which envelopes the entire campus.

The group also introduced the Miyawaki forest system or urban forests in the district. “As many as 2,800 saplings were planted in a small space spreading over 17 cents in Kullakovundanpalayam. Recently, we initiated a sapling campaign covering one kilometre between the new bus stand to the old bus stand in Avinashi town. Around 90 saplings were planted along the high road,” he says.

What makes Sathish Kumar really special is his unique way of preserving the saplings in addition to the plantation drives. Explaining the concept of monitoring, he said this simple method helps save time and money and reduces chances of failure in afforestation. A person is appointed as the monitor, who is responsible for watering, trimming the branches and ensuring the safety of the sapling.

The saplings in Avinashi government school are monitored by Balagurumoorthy, a school faculty. Two dozen local villagers are appointed as monitors for the Miyawaki forest in Kulakoundanpalayam and shopkeepers take care of the one km plantation drive. The success of the campaign is measured after a census every two years.

Remembering an incident which led him to discover the monitoring method, Sathish Kumar says, “I travelled to a nursery farm to get saplings for a plantation drive. The owner gave us lesser number of plants than what we had ordered. When we questioned it, the owner said such drives are not serious and the saplings are not taken care of once the campaign is over. His words struck me like a bullet and that’s when I decided to make each sapling drive a success.”

In 2018, the then Governor Banwarilal Purohit conferred him with the ‘Best Environmentalist Award’ after a plantation drive in Thoravalur. The seeds of activism in the B.Com graduate has now grown in its entirety. He aims to branch out and help the families of those who die in road accidents by offering rent-free freezer boxes, soothing the pain caused by nature.

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The New Indian Express