In his village Reddipalle in Telangana’s Khamam district, Daripalli Ramaiah is known popularly as “Chettu (tree) Ramaiah” or “Vanajeevi (forester) Ramaiah”.
This quiet and unassuming 70-year old, who was once heckled as “a mentally unstable man”, has suddenly become a celebrity after he was chosen for the Padma Shri award this year—all for his single-minded devotion to planting saplings for a greener landscape in the area.
Though Ramaiah hasn’t kept a record of how many saplings he has planted, he says the number would have crossed 10 million or almost one tree for every third citizen of Telangana.
“Planting saplings is not just a hobby for me, but a passion,” he says. “Wherever I found a barren land in my area, I plant a tree. My objective is to see that every sapling that I plant survives. Even if one plant wilts and dies, I feel as if I have lost my life.”
His wife Janamma recalls how locals used to make fun of him for carrying plant saplings and seeds on his bicycle.
“He used to pedal several kilometres to a barren spot where he would plant saplings and sow seeds. He was confident that the area would turn green some day,” she recalls.
His small two-bedroom house in the village is like a mini-museum with billboards, placards and flex banners containing slogans highlighting the importance of tree plantation. When he travels, he sports a board around his neck like a scarf with the slogan: “Vriksho Rakshati Rakshitaha” (Save trees, it will save you).
“I don’t know whether God is pleased with breaking a coconut, but I am sure He will be immensely pleased if we plant a tree,” Ramaiah says.
Be it a marriage, or a birthday, or a wedding anniversary, the couple has made it a habit of gifting saplings. “We have sold off our three-acre land to mobilise money for buying seeds and saplings,” Ramaiah says.
Ramaiah discontinued his education after class 10, but he has not given up his reading habit. Wherever he comes across articles on trees and tree-plantation, he makes it a point to obtain the clippings and preserve them. He also pastes them on boards that adorn some of the walls of his residence.
Besides several state and national awards in recognition of his green campaign, the septuagenarian was conferred with honorary doctorate by Academy of Universal Global Peace. On the second Telangana Formation Day celebrations on June 2, 2016, the Telangana government gave him a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh.
“My responsibility has gone up with the Padma Shri. I will continue this campaign till my last breath. I will be happy if I am able to inspire at least one crore people, so that each of them plants one tree each,” Ramaiah says.