Saturday, July 31, 2010

Losing green cover? Call helpline for a tree

By Alkesh Sharma

Fazilka (Punjab), July 31 (IANS) If a lack of time or resources is preventing you from planting new trees, then it's time you heard of a unique green initiative in this border town of Punjab. To check the rapid decline in green cover, a group of social activists here has launched an innovative 'dial-a-tree' helpline, which will start supplying saplings and carry out plantation free of cost from Aug 1.

"We have converted three cycle rickshaws into 'green ambulances' to transport and plant tree saplings at people's doorstep," Chandrika Ahuja, coordinator of the dial-a-tree project, told IANS.

"The ambulances will have two trained green warriors each, a variety of tree saplings, manure, cutter and basic equipment for trenching." Fazilka residents simply have to dial 9915184000 and book saplings.

The service has been started by the Graduates Welfare Association Fazilka (GWAF) in association with an agriculture resource centre, Zamindara Farmsolutions, and the Punjab government. GWAF celebrates Aug 1 as Anand Utsav, an annual function organised with the aim of spreading awareness about environmental protection.

"This service will be extended free of cost. Trained volunteers will plant the tree and ask the house or land owner to furnish an undertaking that he will protect and take care of the saplings and later they will be awarded with the Green Citizen award," said Ahuja.

For bulk plantation at schools and other institutions, GWAF would ensure a free supply of saplings via green ambulances. This service will remain active till Aug 15, India's Independence Day. According to GWAF officials, trees would be planted within 24 hours of a request and besides planting new trees, the green warriors would also assist in maintaining already existing plants.

"The dial-a-tree helpline is open and we are getting a whopping response. We will start the plantation drive from Aug 1 and it will continue till Aug 15 as this is the most appropriate time of the year for plantation," Navdeep Asija, secretary of GWAF, told IANS.

Talking about the green cover of Fazilka and Punjab, Asija said, "As per information procured through the Right to Information (RTI), municipal authorities in Fazilka had planted less than 800 trees in a decade. About 30 trees survived."

He said Fazilka has a 10.4 sq km area under urban settlement and the green belt is less than 0.5 percent. Asija said this is the first time in India that any such service will be launched to save the environment.

Fazilka falls in Faridkot district of Punjab, which shares the international border with Pakistan. It is around 250 km from Chandigarh.

"We have trained volunteers as green warriors and hope that the public will respond well. Depending on the response we will replicate the model in other towns of the state," said Vikram Ahuja, director of Zamindara Farmsolutions here.

(Alkesh Sharma can be contacted at

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