Planting, nurturing and protecting trees…Nizhal, an NGO, is committed to transforming Chennai into a green city

Every morning, Vasanthi Rajiv goes for a walk along with her pet dog. And while they fill their lungs with fresh air, Vasanthi also takes time to remove the advertisements nailed on the trees.

A member of Nizhal, Vasanthi says, “This is part of our organisation's ‘ Free the Tree' campaign. I used to pull out the ads on Sundays but they would be back on Mondays. So I decided to make it a daily activity.” And with the aid of a long custom-made claw hammer, she goes about her job.

“As a result, there are no ads on trees in Alwarpet, Mandaveli and R. A. Puram,” laughs Shobha Menon, one of the founder members of Nizhal, an NGO that plants and cares for trees and promotes concern for them in the city. It is about empowering people to speak for trees. Established in 2005, by a group of five tree lovers, the organisation's first activities included planting and surveying trees.

Tree walks

With expert advice from Shekhar Raghavan, Director of Rain Centre, and G. Dattatri, their chief advisor, they then came up with the idea of tree walks where people were taught about trees, their properties, and the abuse of trees in urban areas. “The first walk was organised in Besant Nagar with around 30 participants. Ever since, we have only seen the number growing,” says Shobha. Such is the popularity of this activity that apart from corporates, even parents want to make it part of their child's birthday party!

Shobha feels that most people don't even look at a tree till the roots damage their compound wall. “Trees are our lifeline; should we not do our bit for them? If you see a tree being abused, and can't do much, just inform the Corporation about it,” she says. She nostalgically points to a tree which stands about 7-ft tall and smiles, “I remember it being knee-high. Look at it today. It feels so good to see a tree grow.”

We are in the PWD Tree Park where Nizhal is currently working along with the State Public Works Department to commemorate the park's 150 years. Four acres of barren land that was a dump is now green with grass and 240 trees belonging to 200 different species. Keeping them company are birds, multi-hued butterflies and spotted deer.

The purpose of the park apart from providing a green canopy is to educate children, who may reel out videogame names but may not be able to name more than 6-7 species of trees. The park is expected to be ready in three months' time. According to her, planting saplings has become a fad these days but it is not about the number of trees that are planted but about choosing the right species, planting them properly and ensuring there is enough space for them. One must also take care to see that after they are planted, the trees are tended to and nurtured till they can survive on their own.

Working with prisons

Into its fifth year, Shobha attributes Nizhal's success to its committed core team and volunteer network. Nizhal's other projects include school and college programmes, neighbourhood initiatives, gardening and growing vegetables as occupational therapy for patients in the IMH, and working with prisons across Tamil Nadu. It started with ‘Puzhal and Nizhal,' a campaign that helped green the prison grounds. Prisons in Cuddalore, Pudukottai and Tiruchi, and now the Palayamkottai and Madurai prisons, have been covered by the green brigade.

They are given seeds, panchakavyam and vermicompost. Dr. Dayanandan, an expert, educates them about what to plant and when. At the end of the year-long programme, the prisoners are given a certificate. So, when the vegetables and fruits grow, there is considerable excitement and gleeful shouts of “Takkali, vendakkai valandirukku… ingay avarakka valandirukku!” Says Shobha, “This way, we heal not only the minds of people but also the environment.”

WHAT'S REQUIRED

* Regenerate biodiversity

* Plant local and natural species

* Report / stop abuse of trees

For details, log on to www.nizhaltn.org

Keywords: biodiversityNizhal

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