As a teacher Bijay Kumar Bhatt has inspired scores of students to learn and succeed in life through his classroom teachings in Odisha’s Puri district over past two decades. But, he is eulogised as a role model for what he has achieved outside the classroom.
Mr. Bhatt has singlehandedly planted 30,000 trees in Astaranga area, a coastal pocket in Puri which has borne the brunt of cyclones, floods and tidal surge for years. The trees he has chosen to plant are palm, date palm and neem.
“It was the 1999 Super Cyclone that stirred me up. Lakhs of trees were uprooted while tidal surge had inundated vast stretches of cropland making it worthless for taking up crop in future. I could not imagine the green cover regaining its pervious shape in quick time,” he recollected.
Mr. Bhatt who teaches Sanskrit at Belabhumi High School, Astaranga, resolved to contribute what he could as an individual. He would collect saplings from government nurseries and plant them in community land and along roads. Over time, he noticed not many were surviving as cattle grazed on all new plantations.
“An idea stuck me. If I start planting palm, date palm and neem trees, no cattle would come to consume those. That is how I started planting palm, date palm and neem trees. So far, I have planted more than 30,000 trees, including 10,000 palm trees,” he said.
The teacher said the utility of palm trees was critical as they minimise impact of lightning, which is one of the biggest cause of natural deaths in India. After school hours, he would set out to collect seeds of neem trees, palm and date palm from nearby villages.
“I take up plantations on Sundays in unused waste land, saline embankments and community land,” said Mr. Bhatt. While palm trees would grow as wild, it has wide ranges of usages. The fruits produce juice to jaggery and the stems and leaves are used for thatching and baskets and mats.
“As he takes the help of his students in collection of seeds and plantation, the message on importance of ecology is automatically put across to general masses. He has led by example in the locality. The three plant species he has chosen are now more planted by people in their individual farms. These trees are contribution of Bijay sir,” said Soumya Ranjan Biswal, a young climate activist.