BENGALURU: If you had travelled towards Vijayapura from south a decade ago, you would have seen a change in the landscape — all brown with only a few patches of green. But today, in this dry region, long seen as arid land, thousands of trees are flourishing, thanks to the efforts of a forest officer and the people who supported him in the green cause.
Marked by dry spells and minimal rainy days, Vijayapura, the district with a rich historical past, strives to green its environs as the stark landscape has never supported any tree species except maybe, the hardy neem. Even as temperatures touched 43 degree Celsius, 500 saplings were planted in a government school near Muddebihal town with each person planting 10-12 saplings with all care recently.
With the Karnataka forest department bringing in some significant changes in their social forestry programmes, Indi and Muddebihal taluks have paved the way to success with 1.5 lakh saplings surviving the rigours of climate and drought. But this was all due to the dedication and determination of forest officer Santosh A Ajur who put his heart and soul to overcome the vagaries of nature.
Frequent droughts and high temperatures have been the bane for any plantation programme in Vijayapura, say serving and retired senior forest officials. Even today, acute water shortage and dried-up wells is a common occurrence in this district which has no village forests or minor forests. The total notified forest area comprising reserved and protected is just 1,787 hectares. And large tracts out of these which are in Basvana Bagewadi taluk were released for the Upper Krishna Project in stages but not denotified, and therefore continues to be reserve forests.
Further, Indi which was notified as reserve forest in 1879 was denotified a few years later. But nobody knows why. No records are available. Added to this, tree growth in reserve forests is stunted, scattered or absent. Only native species like Bevu, tugli, kakke, and dub jail flourish here. It was only later that afforestation programmes were taken up in this district and ficus, gliricidia, gulmohur, peltoform, raintree, agave, ballari jail were introduced in C & D lands which rapidly spread from trench mounds to open lands.
Santosh Ajur, Range Forest Officer, Muddebihal Social Range and a native of this region, is passionate about his responsibilities. For him, greening of this dry land is indeed,worship. Inspired and encouraged by senior forest officials and Vijayapura DCF, a difficult project has been implemented in a landscape that hardly supports any tree species due to its terrain and climate. In 2015-16, in recognition of his services, the state forest department presented the Marappa award (plantation section) to this young officer.
According to Ajur, people in this region have realized the importance of green cover and have actively participated in the greening programmes in the district. Presently, 25,000 more saplings are being planted this season. Since borewells and groundwater sources have dried up, the forest department is watering the saplings through tankers, These tankers usually fill up water from open wells in those areas that are near Krishna backwaters. Watering is done for six days every week in the first year, and done for two days in the second year. However, in the third year, no watering is required.
The RFO adds, “We hardly get 10 rainy days and therefore, the only tree species that survives here is the neem. Last year, the situation was pathetic with only 200 mm of rainfall. Further, groundwater was not recharged, so we had to water the saplings through tankers if they had to survive the stark summers.”
It was in 2010 that Ajur joined as Deputy Range Forest Officer in Indi and went on to beat the failure of the earlier plantation programmes on road sides. The saplings that had been planted were all short ones while there was hardly any provision for watering the plants. Starting from 2012, tall and healthy seedlings were selected as the landscape hardly received any rains while groundwater sources were minimal.
Ajur adds, “We selected tall saplings of 8-9 feet and very hardy species. Out of the one lakh seedlings planted during 2012-16 in Indi taluk, more than 75% survived. Further, on roadsides itself, 12,000 seedlings were planted across 60 km. Then, we went across the taluk to plant in all types of locations. Later, 50,000 seedlings were planted in Muddebihal where more than 90 per cent have survived. They were carefully nurtured and monitored like babies.”
Not just rural areas, even urban planting was taken up in towns. With people’s support and requests, planting was done in Ranade ashram, Sai School (2,500), and 10,000 more planted across 180 acres in Government Sugar Factory on the Karnataka-Maharashtra border.
Many NGOs and people have come forward and participated in the plantation projects in these two taluks. “Although obstacles were many, with awareness among people increasing, our success rate has increased over the years. Without people’s participation, we could not have succeeded. In some places in Muddebihal, people have come forward to maintain the trees and nurture them.”
Ajur is just 32 and dreams big of greening this dry historical district. As RFO, he has been concentrating wholeheartedly on social forestry and says without intensive care and nurturing, trees cannot survive in these environs.
Four hardy species were selected - Honge, ficus, peepal and neem
The areas included – roadside, crematoriums, schools, colleges,ashrams and other institutions in Muddebihal and Indi
According to Santosh A Ajur, people in this region have realised the importance of green cover and have actively participated in the greening programmes of Vijayapura dist