Family plants 5,500 saplings in Mumbai’s Aarey in 17 years, creates flutter with butterfly garden | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Family plants 5,500 saplings in Mumbai’s Aarey in 17 years, creates flutter with butterfly garden

Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai
Jul 24, 2017 01:35 AM IST

Mumbai city news: The initiative started in 2002 when Vinay Athalye planted 150 saplings in Aarey colony

For more than 17 years, a family of five from Goregaon (East) has been planting saplings across Aarey Milk Colony during the monsoon and caring for them till they become full-grown trees.

Sandeep Athalye flanked by his wife Vardayeeni (right), their son Malhar and mother Aarti (left).(Pramod Thakur/HT PHOTO)
Sandeep Athalye flanked by his wife Vardayeeni (right), their son Malhar and mother Aarti (left).(Pramod Thakur/HT PHOTO)

They have so far planted 5,500 saplings. Last year, they started a butterfly garden near Aarey dairy, and it is already buzzing with 15-20 species of butterflies. There are 86 species in Aarey, according to researchers.

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Sandeep Athalye, 37, his wife Vardayeeni, their four-year-old son Malhar and mother Aarti have been carrying the baton passed onto them by his father Vinay, who passed away in 2015. “It all started with my father in 2000. He began planting trees with support from a club of walkers. People joined the group and helped him. My father would tell me that nature has its startling beauty and presents us with many gifts. It is our duty to return the favour,” said Sandeep. The senior Athalye first planted 100 sapling at unit 16 in Aarey. They were protected by the walkers’ club. Over the next 15 years, he planted more than 3,500 saplings at Panchavati, New Zealand hostel, VIP guest house, Gaondevi Road and MHADA Road.

“At Panchavati, my father planted about 550 saplings from 2004 onwards. We took care of them and today, it is a dense forest with 75 varieties of trees. The focus should not just be on planting trees. Trees should be taken care of for at least next three to four years. That is how you take care of your children too, don’t you?” said Sandeep.

After his father’s death, Sandeep, his wife and his mother took up the initiative to plant 2,000 saplings in Aarey. The butterfly garden was their recent initiative. “The garden has 700 trees now with 70 nectar plant species, including Jamaican spike, lemon, jathropha, pentas, exoras and many other species. These are mostly plants that will attract the butterflies and help with their life cycle,” he said, adding that his son Malhar has planted saplings all by himself and loves to be in the company of butterflies.

Their efforts come at a time when Aarey is being besieged by several development projects. Apart from a car depot and stabling lines for a Metro line, three plots have been marked for Metro VII. The green lung faces threat as the state is considering to change the land use from no-development zone to green zone, to pave way for more constructions and lastly several encroachments that have been cropping in different parts of the 3,166 acres of land.

Residents of Aarey lauded the family’s efforts. “The saplings planted 17 years ago have borne fruits today and the area is home to one of the largest biodiversity sites at Aarey,” said Biju Augustine, an Aarey resident. “While the Panchvati land is now under Force 1 Security Services, the area is a forest thanks to the Athalyes. We need more people like them to protect the last green lungs of the city.”

Over the years, the Athalyes were joined by many nature lovers and NGOs. “Initially, we bought our own saplings and planted them, but after a while we began receiving donations and saplings from different groups that joined us on weekends,” said Sandeep adding, “We never wanted publicity. The moment you seek publicity, the cause is bound to get buried.”

The Athalyes plan to continue their efforts to conserve it. “Aarey’s biodiversity is magical. The next generation needs to realise its value and why it’s necessary to double the number of plantations for every project. Development cannot come at the cost of the environment,” he said.

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