Hariyali works in the field of protection and upgradation of ecosystem, Shukti Sarma finds more
The spartan office of Hariyali (Thane, Maharashtra) has no employees. “We do not hire any staff,” declares Professor Punam Singavi, founder-member of Hariyali. “Everything is managed by people who volunteer for our organisation. There are students, local residents and senior citizens who come on their own to help us—be it our field excursions or administrative work.”
A chartered accountant by profession, Prof Singavi started Hariyali in 1996. During his trips in the country, he witnessed rampant construction on forested turfs and open spaces. Concerned about the depleting greenery all around, he decided to start an afforestation initiative along with some like-minded people. But within the city, there was little space. “We were a group without any political aspirations. We approached the forest authorities and said we would like to start a greening drive for the nearby hills which were becoming barren. They were suspicious, more so when we said we did not want any funds,” remembers Prof Singavi. However, senior forest officials were overjoyed. Thus, Hariyali commenced its first mission. While planting trees, they thought of rainwater harvesting and constructing bunds on the stone quarries. The group contributed the required funds; within eight days, three bunds were completed. Word spread and volunteers turned up to lend their mite.
Today, Hariyali organises tree-planting events, nature treks, bird-watching events and field excursions for students. Hariyali has won several awards from various associations including the ‘Go Green Award’ from the Thane Municipal Corporation. Hariyali believes that planting trees is more important than donating money. “I tell them to send their employees for our field trips. During these treks, many employees decide to donate as well,” says Prof Singavi. Hariyali’s focus is on the hills near Thane, but they have gone beyond Mumbai with their efforts. Volunteers campaign in schools and with corporates and local hubs to raise awareness about environmental issues. They organise lake-cleansing drives for the local water bodies and educate people about preserving lakes. Hariyali grows its own saplings, instead of buying them from nurseries or waiting for government supplies. “We eat fruits like mangoes, jamuns, etc, and throw away the seeds. Why not use them for growing trees?” says Prof Singavi. Volunteers collect seeds of fruits, plastic bags for carrying saplings and water bottles from the locals. There are two nurseries—in Mulund and Thane—where seeds are sorted out, packaged and saplings nurtured. “We ask pilgrims to take the seeds and throw them along their way. If even two plants survive and grow into trees, it is an achievement,” he says.
“We also have to stop firewood collectors from chopping down trees and also stop grazing in these areas. We employ security guards because miscreants start forest fires,” Prof Singavi says. Another unique initiative is storing water on site. Rainwater is harvested with bunds and from waterfalls; water is stored in plastic bottles which the volunteers collect. These bottles are then kept in trenches. “So instead of carrying water on field trips, we can use that the stored water. Even labourers don’t have to carry water. The same water can be used for irrigation,” says Prof Singavi. Taking cognizance of Hariyali’s work, in 2009, Maharashtra government granted Hariyali 25 acres on a seven-year lease. Now, that area is fully covered with saplings. In 2012, the government has given Hariyali another 650 acres for afforestation. “That is a huge project. Volunteering won’t be enough; we will need labourers, equipment and additional resources,” admits Prof Singavi. One can volunteer for Hariyali or contribute financially. All donations are tax-exempt under Section 80(G) of Income Tax Act.
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