On August 8, the Siddipet police booked a footwear shop owner, Umesh, for removing a sapling planted in front of his store as part of the state’s afforestation programme - Telangana Ku Haritha Haram (TKHH). The police took Umesh into custody, and booked him under section 427 (mischief). He was then let off, and a new sapling replaced the uprooted one in the same spot.
This was the first instance in the state of police detaining a person for destroying a plant. And behind this is Siddipet’s Assistant Sericulture officer, Samala Ilaiah, who is determined to take offenders destroying saplings to task, even if it may seem harsh to some.
“How is it harsh? Why are they destroying government property? Trees are essential for our survival. The government has taken up a great initiative to address global warming. Instead of letting the plants grow, these people are destroying them; it should be treated as a crime. Trees are our future,” Ilaiah tells TNM assertively.
The Telangana government has taken up the task of increasing the forest cover in the state to 33%, as mandated by the union government. As part of the programme, all district units and all departments have been assigned with lakhs of saplings to be planted in public places, highways and forests.
Ilaiah has been appointed as the officer on deputation in Siddipet municipality on special request by former minister and present Siddipet MLA, T Harish Rao. Ilaiah directly reports to the MLA if someone has destroyed a plant.
Besides his regular inspection, Ilaiah is also part of WhatsApp group called Siddipet Fast News. The group has around 350 members, mostly admirers of Harish Rao, and promptly updates if a tree or plant planted under TKHH has been damaged.
Lately, the residents of Siddipet who have been destroying plants have been facing llaiah’s ire, who has been slapping the offenders with police cases, imposing fines up to a few thousand rupees; and if the offender is unable to pay up, they are mandated to do community service.
“Every morning at 5 am, I go around the town and check if all the saplings are intact. I get to know if a plant is missing, and I quickly find out who removed the plant, and impose a fine,” Ilaiah explains. “Only if we take such steps, will they hesitate to damage plants. We ask the offenders to plant trees as punishment, that will make them realise the pain we go through,” he justifies.
Ilaiah proudly says that after him taking charge, he planted around 1.50 lakh plants, and most of them have survived. “I monitor all the plants and instruct the workers provide manure too if required. Though some plants may not have survived, we have been ensuring that there is no negligence on our part.”