Pearl D'Souza
Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru

Mangaluru, Sep 11: A backhoe clears debris from the soil as workers simultaneously place saplings into the softened earth. Jeeth instructs the JCB operator the location of the next sapling pit. With his arms wide open, walking a calculated length, he measures the space required between saplings before the backhoe scoops out another bucket of soil. It's Jeeth's 13th year of planting. Back in 2009, in an interview with Jeeth, daijiworld brought to fore the quiet restorer of the city's green canopy. Eight years later, we find out how things have been and whether the city is moving on the trajectory he expects.

Plastic cups, gunny bags, broken tiles and toilet pots and large chunks of cement get uprooted from the all-encompassing soil along the highway from KPT to Padua school, as Jeeth in a conversation with daijiworld, explains the development of his initiative.

"Things have improved, but not at the pace I expected. This is my fourth cleaning of the same stretch (KPT to Padua). Can you imagine cleaning the same place four times? Things need to work at a faster pace, or they're going to get very bad.

"You should have seen the debris yesterday, from cotton waste, pads, to bags. Next year on, I will not touch the stretch," said Jeeth. Jeeth has been re-cleaning the stretch for the last three years. Sadly, debris gets dumped on saplings each year and kills them. The cost of maintenance remains high, and Jeeth disappointed, tending to the same area for a fourth year in a row.

This year, don't be surprised if you see ribbons strung from tree to tree . "It's put there so that nobody dumps garbage and debris," said Jeeth.

Jeeth's planting drive which coincides with the monsoon, started on June 1 this year. He has planted 2800 saplings. "We've planted fewer saplings this year. I have been slogging with the KPT Nanthoor stretch for about 8 days. I had another few schools where I was to plant, but I wanted to finish this first. This is a gateway to Mangaluru," he said. Jeeth has planted 1,500 saplings in Pana University and 1,200 saplings on the roadside from Adyapadi to Kolambe, among other places.

His work over the years include greenification of 13 cemetries, mostly in Nandigudda, and several schools, and work on popular stretches including airport road, KPT girls college stretch, Vikas College stretch with Badam trees, KPT to Sarbatkatte before the concreting, and Valencia to Nandigudda circle.

Branching Out

Jeeth started planting trees in 2004. "I anyway come from an agricultural background. It was nice to see the trees grow. Trees are like babies. When you see them growing, why not one more. We started with a small number of 50, and gradually increased. For the first three to four years I used to buy plants. Later, after the first article came on daijiworld, the forest department came to know of it. They recognised me and started giving them for free. The former ranger Clifford Lobo was the first to do it. The present ranger Sridhar, is another gem of a person. He delivers the plants to the site.

"A team of 15 people from Zumba Fitness near Nanthoor, which my brother Suman Roche runs, comes during the weekend. One Sunday, while we were planting, a reporter saw us, and clicked some photos and wrote something about 'weekend planting'. Now, people come on a regular basis on weekends," he said.

Jeeth, who uses social media to create awareness and encourage people to come and join him, says there is still a dearth of volunteers. "It's not that people are not interested. They just do not have opportunities. There are many interested but just do not know how and where to start. There is simple work to be done like shifting of saplings, tearing of bags, which everyone can do," Jeeth said.

"According to scientists, 9 billion trees are cut every year. And approximately 3-4 billion are planted. So we are still in the destruction mode. We losing at least 4 billion every year. How do we compensate that? Recently I read a report that Western Ghats water is polluted. There is no more fresh stream water.

People know about global warming, hole in the ozone layer, lots of species disappearing, rivers drying up, air and water being polluted, increased number of vehicles and extended roads. They know more trees are needed. There is awareness. Yet they do nothing about it. Yet, there are few people working towards the environment. But more has to be done. Now, you need to just come out and plant," he said.

The Planting

Jeeth's 3-month annual plating drive coincides with the monsoon. Each year, a large number of saplings are planted and even more are taken care of .

"So far, we've planted Kakke (Cassia fistula) , Hole Dasavala (Pride of India), Avalanda, Basavana Pada, Ashvagandha, Banyans... I can give you 40 different names," said Jeeth, when asked about the variety he plants.

"We don't plant at random. It is about beautification and planting, both, so the stretch actually looks nice. I select the place, and then plan on what to plant. I plant fruitbearing trees like jack, wildjack, punarpuli, mangoes, jamuns in the village. But here it's mostly the flowering variety. I keep a regular 3 to 4 meters between the trees and plant the flowering one in the front row," he said.

Green Alternative

While there have been many protesting against the chopping of trees, Jeeth gets to the site and works on restoring the green cover.

"I can't stop them from chopping. Chopping is not my business. Planting is. Give me some place and I will start planting. There are many coming in for a strike. I am not saying you just shouldn't protest. You should. But you must also find an alternative.

"Cutting of the tree should be the last option. And if you really plan it well, you can avoid cutting trees. But now it looks like cutting trees is the first option, then putting the concrete, and then the drain. There is no place for trees. Development should happen but it must be scientific," he said.

"Individual houses these days have big lawns and a garden. But no trees," he said.

Vision Green Mangaluru

Like everyone, Jeeth too has a vision for Mangaluru that is a smart city in the making.

"I want Mangaluru to be the greenest city in India in the next five years. To be very frank, that's my vision. Before the city becomes smart I want it to be green. If I get some more support, another 5 Jeeths, it can happen. Another 5 years I'm sure it will. The average number of plants I am planting and few other organisations are, the forest department support, and with some more cooperation from the corportaion, we can definitely do it. We can plant up to 300 saplings, in a one km stretch, 600 saplings easily if planted on both sides.

"It is slightly disappointing we have a place for 'roadu and thodu' but have no plants. Smart city does not mean a concrete jungle. It means smart people. And lots of greenery. There was a movement called Quit India movement which was the need of the hour. Now we need a movement called 'Green India'.

"The corporation is doing a great job about the waste. But segregation is a concern and must be made compulsory. Otherwise, we only make the landfill bigger. In spite of the announcement on the municipality vehicle, nobody listens but come out with their garbage bags. There should be a penalty for non-segregation. The dumping area is hell on earth. Every year the landfill catches fire. The smoke adds to the problem. One can find batteries and other hazardous materials. It's already late, to be frank.

"If rainwater harvesting, segregation of waste, and solar power for every house like in some countries are in place, you can find some changes. Otherwise, you simply have to keep writing, and I, have to keep talking," said Jeeth.