Plant-a-sapling campaigns often dry up for lack of follow-up action. Liffy Thomas on welfare associations that have not deserted the tender plants in their neighbourhoods

Environment groups are going to town with plant-a-sapling campaigns. And everybody seems to have joined in. From college events to government functions and wedding planners, people give away saplings as return gifts. The campaign has also gone digital: sometimes, an SMS is all it takes to have someone deliver a sapling at your doorstep, free-of-cost.

But, the sad truth is that the initiative often 'dries up' mid-way. In the absence of care and watering, many saplings wither and die much before they could grow into sturdy and imposing trees.

Thankfully, certain NGOs, residents' welfare associations and individuals are now taking action: they adopt these saplings, see them through the tough initial years and try to help them in other ways, when they have grown up.

***

A riot of colours greets visitors to the Kotturpuram Railway Station. As part of an initiative started by the voluntary group Nizhal in 2007, about 15 residents, who live near the station, take care of the greenery. "With two buckets of water in my hands, I would make seven trips daily to the station to water the saplings,” recalls A. Murugan, a key volunteer whose house is not too far from the station.

"For some time, Metro Water workers were watering the plants regularly. But they stopped suddenly." At least once a month, the residents clear the trash trapped in the greenery.

After six years of such selfless caring, they are rewarded with an arresting sight. The tiny and slender saplings they planted have now become trees that dot the skyline with yellow, pink and garish-red flowers. Most of them are native trees: their local names are written on them, a fact appreciated by parents because it adds to their children's general knowledge.

***

The trees on AVM Avenue in Virugambakkam wave their branches as if to thank the residents for their existence.

“There were hardly any trees when we moved in here 10 years ago. Plots were getting converted into apartments and individual houses, but no initiative was taken to plant trees,” recalls M.Narasimhan, secretary of A.V.M. Avenue Residents’ Welfare Association. The Tree Bank Trust planted some 150 saplings and left it to the residents to nurture them.

“In the initial years, motivating residents to care for these plants was difficult. Because most people were interested only in indoor plants. We used to go to every resident’s house and ask them to water the plants outside their house,” says Narasimhan. Sometimes the meshes placed around the saplings would get stolen.

Today, the plants have grown into trees and need no watering. And, thanks to these trees, residents of eight streets enjoy their daily walks.

***

In 2008, a newly built apartment complex in Jamalia, Perambur, was being occupied. The flat owners had no complaints, except for an absolute lack of greenery.

The builder was not to blame: he had left space for greenery. It is just that no sapling had been planted. A few residents took 25 saplings from Chennai Social Service, which supports tree-planting drives.

"A few residents spent considerable time to nurture these plants," says R.Shyam Narayanan, treasurer of Vasanth Apartments Flat Owners Association."After nearly five years, the complex has an impressive canopy. During power cuts, residents head to these trees to cool off."

More In: Downtown | Chennai