Planting saplings in tree-starved Mumbai 'is the least I can do.'
Satish Vijaykumar's The Sapling Project wants to plant 10,000 trees in Mumbai, where trees are losing out to rapid economic development, and then expand to the rest of India and beyond.
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The government has conducted two tree censuses. The latest figures show 1.9 million trees in the city. But the numbers are disputed since they include dead trees and invasive species, and the methodology has changed between the counts, rendering the data useless for spotting trends. A new census is under way using global positioning system technology.Skip to next paragraph
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"The amount of building activity that is coming up in Mumbai is unprecedented, and nobody has actually quantified [deforestation]," says Debi Goenka, leader of the Conservation Action Trust, a Mumbai nonprofit that has fought to protect the city's mangroves and a national park that lies within the city limits.
Once a month the city's tree authority approves the felling of 3,000 to 4,000 trees for various projects, Mr. Goenka says.
If those numbers would show up in a census, he says, "There would be an uproar."
Goenka lauds The Sapling Project, while alleging that the city has a lot of money earmarked for tree planting that it is not spending.
But Vijaykumar and Walunjpatil aren't interested in fighting city hall.
"Many people have commented, 'Why is government sleeping?' But ... every time you can't blame government. What have you done?" Walunjpatil says. The two say they are now in talks with city authorities about working together on tree-planting projects.
In one corner of Mumbai, their project indirectly helped dozens of kids collect wastewater from their kitchens to water the saplings. That happened after stay-at-home mom Veeni Bhagat was looking for free saplings and stumbled on The Sapling Project's website.
Ms. Bhagat decided she would turn her green thumb to reclaiming a litter-strewn open space behind her apartment building. She enlisted children from her building. Each adopted a tree from The Sapling Project and waters it using gray water from their apartment.
The project has given the kids a safe place to play outdoors and also taught them a few lessons. "Each child adopted their own plant. That is how they learn awareness that they should grow plants and take care of them," she says.
Such open spaces are rare now, she notes, gazing across the highway at a call center office tower built two years ago. She hopes the trees will help block noise from the road, provide fresh air, and, in a small way, combat climate change.
Just cleaning up the lot inspired her neighbors to see the land differently: They chipped in to buy playground equipment.
"India's greatest strength and its weakness is its people. We've got 1.2 billion of them. It's time we used that 1.2 billion as an asset," Vijaykumar says.
"Imagine having even 1 percent of that population as ecowarriors or propagating something nice for the environment?"
• Learn more at thesaplingproject.com
• For more stories about people making a difference, go here.