Joining hands to transform acres of barren, rocky terrain

A joint effort of the forest department and Saloni village, a vast stretch is now full of trees – an inspiration for many states reports Ejaz Kaiser.
Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo)
Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo)

CHHATTISGARH: Saloni village of Dhamtari district, around 90km from state capital Raipur, has done something impossible: a rocky, barren swathe of around 125 acres has turned green.

The Saloni region has a large tract of rocks, unsuitable for growing trees – a challenge accepted by the villagers. They joined the forest management committee’s initiative Besides providing shelter from harsh summers, the huge plantation has helped in generating biomass. The decayed leaves of these trees also add nutrients to the soil, enhancing soil fertility and helping in the growth of other plants and trees.

The green cover tells a story of the hard work that went into it. “We have seen peepal and banyan trees growing or surviving along the crevices of buildings, old palaces, or some rocks. We thought if these plants can remain alive at such uncommon locations, why can’t they grow in the rocky land too?” said Vaman Sahu, who floated the idea with the Joint Forest Management Committee and the state forest department officials in the division a decade back.

Then and now: The parched and rocky swathe at Saloni village in Chhattisgarh which is lush with young trees following the initiative | express
Then and now: The parched and rocky swathe at Saloni village in Chhattisgarh which is lush with young trees following the initiative | express

Former Dhamtari divisional forest officer (DFO) K K Bisen was delighted with their plan. The DFO advised them to locate the fissures in the rocky ground and suggested planting a specific species of trees. The villagers agreed on peepal and banyan trees. As part of site preparation for tree plantations, a plan was chalked out to create small crevices identified on the rocky surface. The fissures were expanded by mild drilling to assist in retaining the moisture in the soil. The locals looked for such crevices that were separated by at least 15-20 metres.

One hurdle, however, came up. Funds and labourers were to be arranged for drilling the crevices meant to create space for plants. “The district collector rejected our plan after we told him about our intention to use the barren terrain, saying he wouldn’t risk his career for such an ‘unproductive’ venture. We were very disappointed,” said Sahu, who is also head of Saloni Van Suraksha Samiti.

The DFO, however, was convinced the plan would be fruitful if done with zeal and honesty. “So, we again followed it up with the district collector, who finally agreed on the condition that the initiative had to be fail-safe,” said Sahu. After the administrative approval, labourers came into action, using hammers and chisel blades to create a 35-cm space around the spotted rock fissures. Soils with vermicompost were deposited along with the peepal and banyan plants. The three-month rainy season followed by cold weather and close monitoring led the plants to survive.

“I have been to many states, but I have not seen such encouraging success of ficus plantation on rocky terrain as seen in Saloni,” said the DFO. Ficus is a genus of about 850 species collectively known as fig trees. They are native throughout the tropics with a few species extending into the semi-warm temperate zone. “All credit goes to local villagers. We acted only as facilitators in 2012. Today almost 95% of the plants have survived on the unproductive large tracts of non-forest rocky areas,” said DFO Bisen.
Over 4,000 saplings were planted here, Bisen said.

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