Almost every tree at the Southern Railways’ Signal and Telecommunication workshop and training centre in Podanur has a story behind it, writes Subha J Rao

On June 5, 2007, Kalimuthu retired after years of service from the Railways’ Signal and Telecommunication (S & T) workshop in Podanur. But his presence lives on in the form of a strapping mango tree on the premises.

Most retiring employees plant a sapling here before they leave. Every time a senior official visits the campus, a sapling is planted. On special days, such as environment or forest day, mass planting takes place. So, you have rows of jamun, fruit bearing trees and flower creepers that scent the air. An extensive drip irrigation system takes care of the water requirements. The birds are not far behind. Koels, drongos, crows, mynahs and sparrows enliven the mornings and evenings with their constant chatter. Inside the offices, some of them built over half a century ago, there’s little evidence of the sun blazing away outside.

Elsewhere in the 13-odd acre premises that houses the S & T training centre, the office of the chief health inspector (CHI), the railway hospital and sundry offices, green is the buzzword.

A lovely circular walking path envelops the workshop. Every five feet or so, there’s a sapling in a tree guard. When one dies, another one quickly replaces it.

S. Vejey Khumar, the CHI, is suitably proud. From his table, all he can see is well-maintained vegetation. This garden has won awards at the Kovai Flower Show in 2010 and 2011. Hedges in shades of green hold within them a wealth of flowering shrubs, colourful crotons and herbs. A narrow path leads into a spacious backyard that houses a patch of health-giving aloe vera, trees ripe with papaya, and coconut and eucalyptus trees so tall you have to crane your neck to see them. There’s a lush betel vine that climbs on every available surface. Apparently, the staff help themselves to it now and then.

In the Railway Mixed High School, a nursery bed has been raised, and children learn to plant seeds. Bus conductor and green activist M. Yoganathan helps them with this.

Senior section engineer T. Joseph Manickarayan is in the forefront of this green movement, says Navita Singh, chief workshop manager. He also coordinates with NGOs to source plants.

The workshop is merely carrying forward a programme, the seeds for which were sown long ago. Two arasa marams and a tamarind tree that are as tall as the workshop building welcome visitors. Inside, a half-acre dumpyard has been reclaimed and plants raised there. “Many birds come here now. One of our staffers feeds the birds during tea time. He spends Rs. 20 every day for this. For the rest, it’s a great de-stresser to sit amidst the trees during short breaks from work,” says Joseph.

Almost every ledge in the building is a dash of colour from the numerous flowering plants. The campus also has many gnarled trees that have stood the test of time. The most famous trees here are a conjoined peepul and neem tree, which is a mini temple of sorts.

The centre trains staff from across the country and an hour-long shramdaan is part of the daily routine. From 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., the trainees head out, shovel in hand, to garden. They have planted badam, guava, frangipani, neem, ornamental flowers and fragrant jasmine. There’s even a nagalingam tree.

One batch apparently planted corn. “They harvested about 50 ears of corn, and roasted the bhutta,” says K. Moorthi, senior section engineer (tele). “It was delicious; they served it with pepper and salt.”

How green is your neighbourhood? Write in to feedbackcbe@gmail.com if you know of any colonies in the city that take pride in their trees

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