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Punjab's Green Baba


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Baba Sewa Singh is on a green mission. The head of the kar sewa of the Khadur Sahib gurudwara in the village near Amritsar that goes by the same name, has ensured that nearly 250 kilometres of roads in Punjab are covered with about a lakh trees. Nearly a 100 villages are covered under this plantation drive and there are plans to add at least 50 more villages to this list and 20 km of roads every year. There are supervisory teams to ensure that none of these newly planted trees die for want of care. And another one lakh saplings are ready in the nursery, waiting to planted.
It was in 2004, during the quincentenary birth celebrations of the second Sikh Guru, Guru Angad Dev, that Baba Sewa Singh and his team took a pledge to do something to preserve the environment of Punjab.

“We had started the Save Environment campaign in 1999 but for the quincentenary celebrations, we were told to hold a series of functions—nagar kirtans, paaths, langars, etc.—but we wanted to do something that would last a lifetime. The Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy scripture) lays a lot of importance on environment, air, water and nature. According to the Guru Granth Sahib, air has been given the status of Guru, water that of father and Earth of the mother. So as part of the celebration, we decided to plant trees.”

They had a twin purpose—improve the quality of air and also revive the traditional trees of the state. What started as a plan to plant trees along the five roads that lead to Khadur Sahib has now become a pan Punjab plan which has spread to neighbouring states like Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. About 25,000 fruit-bearing trees have been planted on various roads, another 35,000 trees have been planted in association with government and non-government organisations, 500 trees each of bohr and peepal have been planted in Punjab and so have 100 trivenis—a combination of bohr, peepal and neem trees. A herbal garden, two nurseries to rear more trees and organic farms, the list is long.

“Air and water are our treasures which we cannot waste or pollute and while we have invented gadgets that can clean water, only trees can help clean air. But mere planting of trees is not enough. We have to take care of them and ensure that they survive,” says Baba Sewa Singh.

He has set up three teams to maintain the trees they have planted. “One team looks after the nursery, the second goes wherever we are called for planting trees and the third team goes around with water tankers to ensure that the planted trees are looked after.”

But Baba Sewa Singh didn’t have it easy. “While we have many followers, there were people who opposed us too. When we were planting trees near the main gurudwara, a farmer would not allow a single tree near his land. This man claimed his crop would suffer. Though he did relent after the villagers forced him, at the end of each harvesting season, he would set the field alight to burn the farm residue. That killed many of our trees. It is here that we need the government’s intervention. The state government has a rule that says no farmers will plant paddy before June 10. A similar law on straw burning is also needed,” says Baba Sewa Singh.

But he is determined to carry on his work. “We have now started covering the outer roads of villages. The villagers specify the kind of trees they need—fruit-bearing ones or the ones that provide shade. Every house in the village will have at least two plants, a neem or jamun tree and a tulsi,” says Baba Sewa Singh.