Planting seeds for a cleaner and greener future

Working for over 50 years, this 83-year-old environmentalist wishes that governments did more to preserve nature and save Mother Earth, writes Harpreet Bajwa.
Image used for representational purposes (Photo | BP Deepu, EPS)
Image used for representational purposes (Photo | BP Deepu, EPS)

PUNJAB: Prakash Singh Bhatty, 83, is known as a one-man army against environment pollution. For over 50 years, he and his NGO Missionaries Khudai Khidmatgaran have planted lakhs of trees across several states and saved thousands of acres from becoming barren lands. “In the late sixties, when the Green Revolution in north India started, I found trees being felled arbitrarily and most ponds and puddles levelled for cultivation. The ecological balance started breaking down,” recalls Bhatty, who was born in Lahore in pre-Partition India.

“In those days, the environment was not an issue with any government or political party. It was difficult to convince people to plant trees. But I continued with my work on the plantation. In more than five decades, my NGO has planted over one crore saplings in many states.”Some of the saplings planted along the border areas have grown into tall trees. “The saplings are planted east to west. Thus, once they grow into trees, they become windbreakers,’’ he adds. He not only gets these saplings planted but also takes due care that these survive and branch out to their fuller self.

This noted environmentalist is behind several green covers alongside highways and roads in Punjab. His NGO Missionaries Khudai Khidmat-garan has a staff of around 35 people and has its two own nurseries near Amritsar. “In our nurseries in Amritsar, we raise saplings which are planted as per the area. We prefer to plant traditional trees like amla, baheda, falsa, lokoat, shisham and kadam – trees that have slowly vanished from Punjab and Haryana. Each year we plant around one lakh saplings,’’ he said.

While short plants are planted on the road medians, thousands of native roses are also planted in other places.

He uses empty milk pouches instead of fresh plastic bags. He also prefers native species instead of exotic varieties, which are more conducive to the local weather conditions. He says his NGO has planted saplings in the mangrove forests of Goa and Kerala also. “Mangroves forest has trees and shrubs belonging to hundreds of varieties that grow in coastal areas and can tolerate saline sea water,’’ he adds. Besides, he has also done research work on bamboo in Assam.

The survival rate of plants grown inside Army areas is 90%, while those planted elsewhere have a survival chance of about 80 per cent. In Punjab, the rate is the lowest at 25%. Bhatty says his NGO arranges machines to dig pits and provides water tankers along with some equipment.

He manages most of the expenses from his own resources, besides some help from a very close circle of friends and family. He says governments have not been doing enough. Besides this NGO, he has another organisation that works for water treatment plants and municipal solid waste.

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