Madurai Green was started in October 1991 by a group interested in preserving environment
The ‘Kadambavanam’ (forest of Kadamba trees) of yore has only green patches on its body today. Most of the trees have been replaced by concrete structures. The city’s 38 tanks have either been filled up by buildings and solid waste or left in disuse as collectors of used water. The successive monsoons playing truant is not the only reason for Madurai getting below average rainfall. The city and suburbs do not have enough green to cover themselves. Still, sustained efforts are on to recapture the green past by raising trees wherever possible and creating awareness of green values.
An aerial view of the city will show only a few areas like the American College and Railway Colony green. A movement to plant tree saplings and concurrently make people aware of the value of greenery is gaining momentum. Started in October 1991 by a group of people interested in preserving Madurai’s environment, Madurai Green is taking roots as a movement for clean environment. The target then was to raise 40, 000 saplings every year for distribution all over the city. So far, Madurai Green has given away 6.5 lakh saplings for free or for Re one per sapling. “Till 1998, we were distributing saplings free of cost. After we realised that people did not show any seriousness to protect the free sapling, we started to offer it for Re one. Now we give saplings for Rs three for educational institutions and Rs five for individuals. However, free distribution also continues,” says N. Chidambaram, Project Coordinator.
Madurai Green offers eight varieties of tree saplings for the public, including Neem, Pungan, Flame of the Forest and Vaagai. Saplings are raised at Gomathipuram and wherever space is offered. The National Service Scheme volunteers of Tamil Nadu Polytechnic College have been involved in raising about 60, 000 saplings. Usually, growing of saplings begins in April-May. This year it is delayed up to August due to absence of rainfall. Grown up saplings are distributed during the rainy season. On June 5, World Environment Day, the Madurai Green supplies about 10, 000 free saplings to people at the railway station, bus stands and markets every year. Efforts are on to involve Youth Clubs in growing tress. Already, Youth Clubs have been formed in Tahsildar Nagar and Koodal Nagar and youngsters are trained to raise 10,000 saplings each in these places.
D. Raghavan, president, Madurai Green, who started the movement along with Mr. Chidambaram, Rev. Fr. Alexis Diamond Raj and M. B. Vasimalai of Dhan Foundation, says that theirs is a self-sustaining social organisation founded for the purpose of making Madurai a green city and it does not depend on government support. Its prime objective is to provide green cover in new residential colonies. Gomathipuram-Thendral Nagar on the Sivaganga Road is a standing example of public participation in growing trees. Its streets, especially the Alli Street and Cross Streets, have high grown trees that provide shade. Madurai Green plans to develop the park near Viraganoor regulator as a model for the city. It will also draft the services of individuals to encourage greening of specific areas.
Taking stock of the green spread over a period of two decades, Mr. Chidambaram says that a survey taken by them three years back revealed that the survival rate of saplings was 50 to 60 per cent in industrial estates and private factories; 35 to 40 per cent in educational institutions; 35 per cent in private sector offices and 20 to 25 per cent in residential areas. The Forest Policy stipulates that 50 per cent of survival can be deemed cent per cent.
More than spreading green cover, Madurai Green has succeeded in creating awareness of trees. One of its initiatives is the ‘Tree Walk’ organised on the fourth Sunday of every month from June this year. The first Tree Walk was held in Alagarkoil herbal forest, one of the 11 herbal forests in Tamil Nadu. The second walk took place in Pasumalai around The Gateway. The walk, says D. Stephen, Assistant Professor, Department of Botany, American College, will prevent reckless felling of trees due to absence of concern. The participants are told about the significance of individual tress species and the benefits the society gets from it. The walk actually introduces trees to people, says Dr. Stephen.
Madurai Green involves women in growing saplings after providing necessary training. A woman can take up rearing saplings as a part-time vocation at home.
With limited space, it is possible to raise 500 to 1000 saplings, says Mr. Chidambaram. Apart from spending their spare time usefully, women can earn Rs five per sapling.
Last year, Madurai Green joined hands with Madurai chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage to raise Kadamba trees. It also sends experts to residential areas to assess their potential before offering saplings and undertakes to foster trees in private spaces for a fee.
More green cover can be provided for the city if roads are dug up only on one side to lay cables, feels Mr. Chidambaram. The other side should be earmarked for trees. Concrete roads should not be laid from end to end and at least two-foot space should be provided on the margins for trees. The initiatives of Madurai Green have resulted in educational institutions wearing a green coat.
The success rate in residential areas is not all that encouraging as people tend to forget the saplings after a ceremonial planting. But the green march continues.