In 1981, Lakshmi Singh – the late mukhiya of Khendra in the extremist hotbed of Palamu district – went against the grain by planting trees in fallow land spread over seven acres. Nine years later, Maoists killed him because they considered him an upper caste landlord who exploited Dalits in the village.
Somehow, Singh’s family managed to make ends meet. However, when it was time for young Khushboo to be married off in 2005, the late village head’s widow had no money to arrange for a ceremony. Singh’s foresight, however, came to her rescue. She sold the trees to organise a grand wedding worthy of their daughter’s name.
In 1996, Maoists killed Nezam Mukhiya – the head of Khairodohar village in the same district – after branding him a spy. Fortunately, he had also planted trees over 10 acres of barren land a decade ago. When Nezam’s daughter attained marriageable age in 2006, the family sold half the trees to a timber merchant and conducted a gala wedding for her.
The families of both Singh and Nezam have more in common than similar stories. Both the village heads had taken local green crusader K K Jaiswal’s advice of planting trees in the fallow land of rain-shadowed Palamu – something that eventually came to the aid of their families.
The 59-year-old crusader had stressed then that as both Singh and Nezam possessed no monetary savings, the trees could prove to be valuable fixed deposits for the future. It was a tough call to take, considering that rural folks of those days believed that the government takes over any farmland you dare plant trees on.
Today, Jaiswal’s words have come to the rescue of not just the families of Singh and Nezam, but also hundreds of other villagers who have taken to converting fallow land into jungles.
Jaiswal launched his green crusade from Palamu’s Daali panchayat, his birthplace, in 1976. Today, it has spread to 18 Indian states – besides the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bhutan. Till now, the crusader has reportedly distributed around 31 lakh saplings at his own expense among residents of various states.
Jaiswal’s motivational speeches on treating trees as fixed deposits have earned him multitudes of followers in rural areas. Unlike other environmentalists, Jaiswal’s philosophy allows people to cut trees whenever they run short of money. “Jungles may be the nation’s wealth, but the trees on a farmer’s land are his wealth. He has every right to cut them when required. Every tree is worth 10 sons to a farmer,” the environmentalist says.
Though various government agencies and NGOs have felicitated Jaiswal for his efforts, it’s Chipko movement leader Sundar Lal Bahuguna’s words that he cherishes the most. “You are doing a wonderful job of spreading environmental awareness in a backward, tribal-dominated state like Jharkhand. Your efforts should fetch you more awards and recognitions,” says a letter from Bahuguna, which adorns the wall of Jaiswal’s drawing room in Daltonganj.
Government officials also sing the green crusader’s praises. “His efforts have generated a mass movement on tree plantation in the rain-shadow areas of Jharkhand and Bihar,” says Laxmi Narayan Damor, former regional chief conservator of forests, Jharkhand.
Jaiswal believes that planting trees is the only way to ensure the planet’s survival. “I am sure the third World War will be for water. The only way to avert the war is by planting trees. Today, we are forced to carry water in pet bottles. Very soon, we will be travelling with our own oxygen cylinders,” he cautions.