List of people from India whose work to protect and conserve the environment can prove to be an inspiration for many.

Meet the awesome Indians who have planted forests and built sanctuaries
news Environment Friday, March 11, 2016 - 16:23

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”- Margaret Mead

The degradation of the environment has become one of the major sources of concern the world over today. From pollution to deforestation, overpopulation and overexploitation of natural resources, countries today are struggling to maintain a balance between development and environmental protection.

India too faces the same issues, but there have been people in the country who have been working relentlessly for years (for decades in some cases) to conserve the environment.

Here is a list of people from India whose work to protect, conserve and save the environment in their own, unique ways can prove to be an inspiration for many.

SAI Sanctuary, Karnataka

In 1991, Anil K Malhotra (75) and his wife Pamela Gale Malhotra (64), bought a 55-acre land in Karnataka's Kodagu district, considered one of the micro hotspots of biodiversity within the larger hotspots of the Western Ghats.

In the course of the next two decades, the couple bought several more tracts of unused and abandoned agricultural land in the adjoining areas with the motto of "acquisition, protection and reclamation of forested lands and wildlife habitat where vital water sources have their origin". 

And that is how they set up the now 300-acre Save Animals Initiative (SAI) Sanctuary, which is said to be the first private wildlife sanctuary in India. The sanctuary hosts over 300 species of birds apart from being home to several animal species. 

Screenshot/YouTube

“Our aim is to preserve the flora and fauna, especially the rainforests, for the future generation. We believe that when we die we should give back the same (if not better) Earth which we got from our ancestors to the next generation,” Anil told The Better India

With both of them having an inherent love for nature, what shocked them was the pollution they noticed in Haridwar when they came down to India for Anil's father's funeral in 1986. 

"There was so much deforestation, the timber lobby was in charge, and the river was polluted. And no one seemed to care. That was when we decided to do something to reclaim the forests in India," Anil told TOI. 

They tried buying land in the northern part of the country, but were discouraged by the land ceiling of 12 acres and moved down south. 

The Timbaktu Collective

Bablu Ganguly, his wife Mary Vattamattam and another fellow activist John D’Souza bought 32 acres of barren land in the drought prone Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh in 1989. 

They named it Timbaktu, which literally means ‘where the earth meets the sky’.

“Our vision is to stop the degradation of the land in Anantapur district and to find ways to reverse it. We want to green the hills and the land. We want to develop alternative lifestyles. Lifestyles that are sustainable and provide more liberty and happiness, than those based on exploitation. The farmers see their land degrade and the wells drying up, but they don’t know what to do, so they just continue their patterns of self-destruction. We want to find a path that leads out of this vicious circle, not without but together with them," Bablu and Mary told The Better India in 2010. 

And they have been successful in their attempt to do that. 

Though the first crop that they planted in 1991 failed, the couple did not lose hope. 

Screenshot: RealHeroes/YouTube

The Better India reported that Bablu then "bought 7000 saplings. He and Mary brought farmers from the villages to build creative water harvesting structures ensuring that every drop of water was judiciously used. Seed dibbling and such traditional farming methods were practiced – and the colour of the land started changing. Timbaktu was transformed from a barren earth to a lush green forest."

The couple also formed an NGO called The Timbaktu Collective which works for sustainable development. 

‘Forest man of India’ Jadav Payeng

Jadav Payeng is a tribal man belonging to the Mishing community in Assam who turned a once barren island in the state into a forest- of 550 acres- over the course of three decades.

He had started by planting saplings on a barren river island on the Brahmaputra River close to his house.

Photograph by Jitul Gogoi

The forest has now been named after him- Mulai Kathoni Bari, “Mulai” being his pet name, and “kathoni” meaning forest in the local language.

“34 years ago, there was a major flood in the state which killed a lot of wild animals and caused a lot of devastation. It immediately struck my mind that the ecosystem was being damaged and I wanted to do my bit to restore it,” Jadav said.

In 2012, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) named him the ‘Forest man of India’.

Read more: This year's Padma Shri awardee - a man who transformed a barren island into a forest in Assam 

Kallen Pokkudan, Kerala’s Mangrove man

Although he is no more, Kallen Pokkudan is still considered an iconic figure in the field of environmental conservation.

The environmental activist and author is known for his work for the protection, conservation and proliferation of mangroves in Kerala since the 1980s. He has planted over one lakh mangrove saplings across the state in almost three decades.

It is his work that also earned him the moniker Kandal Pokkudan, “Kandal” meaning mangrove in Malayalam.

“The birds that roam the skies and nest in mangrove branches, tree heads, paddy fields and river banks also have a life similar to ours. As a Dalit, I had always tilled the earth for others. Maybe that’s why I tried to go deeper into the possibilities of protecting mangroves," a 2008 Tehelka report quoted him as saying. 

And he never stopped.

Kallen Pokkudan/Facebook page

KPM Basheer in The Hindu writes, “He would set out in the morning in his little canoe, stacked with mangrove seedlings and his packed lunch, and carry out his mission until late afternoon. In between, he would take a nap on the canoe and drop a line for his favourite freshwater fish.”

Despite having no formal education, Pokkudan has given lectures in more than 500 educational institutions and has written several books including his autobiography Kandal Kadukalkkidayil Ente Jeevitham (My Life in Mangrove Forests), edited by Malayalam writer Thaha Madayi and published by Pokkudan’s son Sreejith.

A recipient of multiple awards, Kallen Pokkudan passed away in Kerala in 2015 at the age of 78. 

Read more about him: Pokkudan: A man people thought was insane for wanting to protect mangroves 

Shubendu Sharma, Afforestt

Shubhendu Sharma is not a regular environmentalist. An eco-entrepreneur, Sharma turned the cause of planting trees into a business idea and today plants forests for a living. 

A TED fellow, Sharma is the founder of the Bengaluru-based for-profit social enterprise Afforestt.

Screenshot; TED/YouTube

Born and brought up in Uttarakhand, Sharma joined Toyota as an Industrial Engineer soon after he graduated.

In 2008, Japanese forester Akira Miyawaki had come to the Toyota campus Sharma was working in to plant a forest. Miyawaki’s technique caught Sharma’s attention and he decided to volunteer with him.

Sharma then grew a forest in the backyard of his home which turned out to be a success. And soon, he quit his cushy job and started Afforestt.

Image source: Afforestt/Facebook

In an interview with The News Minute last year, Sharma had said “We have planted 60,000 trees or 48 forests in 13 different cities in India.”

Be it a piece of land in your backyard or a factory garden or the dividers on the road, according to Sharma, trees can be grown even on barren land with the right method.

“A hundred-acre land has the potential to have as many as 12 lakh trees. It will also have a tremendous environmental impact,” he says.

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