A small plantation area christened Sarojini Vana (Sarojini Forest) gives the impression to passers-by that the authorities in Odisha’s Bonai Forest Division are perhaps great admirers of freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu. But that’s not the case. Their tribute is to Sarojini Mohanta, 42, a homegrown changemaker who has hardly stepped out of the State’s boundary. Hired for a daily wage of ₹315 as a watcher, this Sarojini has gone beyond the call of duty to create a forest on a denuded patch of land in just two years.
“When the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF), Sisir Ratho, recently came for an inspection to Bonai, he was left dazed that the woman’s dedication led to the survival of 95% of saplings planted in four acres of land. The PCCF suggested naming the plantation area after her. That’s how the Sarojini Vana came into being,” Sanath Kumar, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Bonai, said.
Bonai is a mining affected region in the State. The Forest Division received funds under the District Mineral Foundation programme to raise a small forest on the denuded patch and went ahead with the afforestation programme as a part of its routine work. Ms. Mohanta was deployed to look after the plantation area.
“I have not seen such dedication from a daily wager towards the upkeep of public property. During odd hours, she would rush to the plantation area on spotting cattle near saplings and drive them away without waiting for others to lend a helping hand,” Mr. Kumar said.
Every plant in the area sprawled over three acres of land appears to be at her fingertips — Ms. Mohanta would know which plant would die if it wasn’t watered immediately. The dedication made all the difference.
Ms. Mohanta, who lives with her husband, son and daughter-in-law in nearby Ulsurei village, narrated how difficult was it to ensure the saplings survived. “The land had murrum soil (a type of laterite soil). Trees hardly grow in these types of soil. I actively participated in digging pits for each sapling. We filled them up with vermi-compost. Subsequently, I made sure that all saplings were watered regularly,” she said.
“Cattle from six villages pass near the plantation area to grazing grounds every day. Till these cattle return to their respective sheds by evening, I stand guard near the plantation area. There is every chance of cattle straying into the farm,” Ms. Mohanta said. In a span of two years, over 3,000 fruit-bearing and forest species of trees have begun thriving on the land she tends.
“Naming of the plantation area after Ms. Sarojini is small gesture but it would go a long way in spreading the message of love for the environment. Moreover, those who are involved in forest protection or plantation programmes have realised that their hard work would not go unrewarded,” the Bonai DFO said.