Tribals in Madhya Pradesh have embarked on a unique ‘guerrilla-green’ operation of planting fruit bearing trees on any available piece of vacant land

To combat the twin problems of malnutrition and environmental degradation, adivasis of Harda and Betul districts of Madhya Pradesh have decided to launch ‘Operation Guerrilla Green’ — a movement to plant large numbers of fruit bearing trees on vacant land, wherever it is available.

Mobilised under the banner of Shramik Adivasi Sangathan (SAS), a local tribal rights organisation, tribals of the region have resolved to plant one lakh saplings this year on any barren- degraded land — be it government, forest, private or panchayat land.

To create awareness, the adivasis have begun a month-long planting campaign to coincide with hari jiroti — the Gond and Korku festival celebrating the beginning of the rains and the new sowing season.

The movement started with the adivasis taking out a Hariyali Yatra (Green March) from the local Chirapatla market in Betul district in the last week of July. Last week, they entered the ‘second phase’ of the movement and planted 1,000 saplings. Next, on August 15, the adivasis of Betul planted 10,000 saplings of fruit bearing trees on barren land in Umberdoh.

The ‘operation’ is similar to the Guerrilla Gardening movement, which is highly popular in several western countries and which involves planting of fruit and vegetable trees on abandoned or degraded land. The project will green degraded land and, at the same time providing nutritious fruits to the Gond and Korku tribals of this malnutrition-affected region.

However, it is a bit more complicated than your average ‘tree-planting-field trip’. To start with, the law is not on the tribals’ side, since the Forest Department does not permit any kind of plantation of fruit bearing trees (because they are considered commercial species) on forest land. As a result, several adivasis in Bod, Pippalbarra, Kamtha, Gavajhadap, Dhumka and Chunhajuri villages of Betul have reportedly been booked under sections of Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

“Some have as many as five cases registered against them for encroaching on forest land and destroying wildlife by their act of plantation,” says Anurag Modi of Shramik Adivasi Sangathan.

Hence the name Guerrilla-Green, which is a play of words on the unofficial but notorious and widely accepted term “Operation Green Hunt”, referring to the para-military offensive in the left-wing extremism affected districts of central India.

After being turned down by district authorities on their demand of planting saplings, the adivasis decided to develop their own nurseries. In three villages of Betul — Bod, Pippalbarra and Markadhana they have developed nurseries and planted around 15,000 saplings of awla, guava, cheeku and jamun among others. They plan to plant another 85,000 saplings by collecting naturally grown plants from river banks, under the trees, and replant them systematically.

“We are calling it ‘guerrilla’ because despite the Forest Department terming it illegal, the tribals have resolved to turn all the barren and degraded forest land around them lush green with fruit bearing trees,” says Mr. Modi.

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