The ethos of Padma Shri recipient Shyam Sunder Paliwal’s life revolves around water, daughter and trees. A resident of Rajsamund district in Rajasthan, Paliwal is the architect of the Piplantri Model that hinges on water conservation, environment protection and saving the girl child.
“It was not too long ago that the district was known as a hub of marble mining. When I took over as Sarpanch of Piplantari, I found that the water here was severely contaminated. The poor sex ratio was another worry. The winds of change began to blow when we started an initiative to plant 111 saplings to celebrate the birth of a girl child across the villages, nurture and help the tree thrive. Slowly, the rural communities had realised that the trees that would grow from these humble efforts would help the environment in more than one way. Simultaneously, we started water conservation efforts like building small check dams,” says Paliwal, founder of Kiran Nidhi Sansthan, a grassroots organisation committed to rural development.
His initiative brought about a visible social change and helped water and environmental conservation in Piplantari. More than three lakh trees have been planted here in the last ten years, and the water level has increased to 50 feet from 500 feet. “It is heartening to see my penance bear fruits. It has been a long and arduous journey spread over the last two decades. We never dithered but stayed put, instilled confidence in the people and won their trust to do this wonder here. It was possible because the community came forward and pitched its support to these initiatives for tree plantation, water conservation and saving the girl child,” he says.
But the work is far from over. The much-celebrated water warrior’s Piplantari Model is the perfect medium to convey the message to others, and many Panchayats and village heads are following in his footsteps.
He will continue his work on these three fronts all around the desert state and elsewhere in the country because it is an ongoing process. “There can never be enough of these measures to save the environment from climate change. We need to do more, all the more,” he emphasises.
Nagaur farmer Himmata Ram Bhambhu a.k.a. ‘Registan ke Ratna Ram’ was felicitated with Padma Shri for his enviable contribution to the environment. He adores and reveres trees and has so far planted five and a half lakh saplings in desert areas of Rajasthan, using ingenious ways to water and see them grow into green giants.
Bhambhu fondly recalls how his grandmother once made him plant a Peepal sapling and sowed a noble thought in his impressionable mind that eventually shaped his life. “She made me realise that humans could live at the most for 100, but trees live for hundreds of years. The thought stayed with me. Over the past five decades, I have been on a sapling planting spree in Rajasthan, and almost all of them have grown into green giants dotting Nagaur and other places in the desert state. They are my real wealth,” he says.
The district is home to India’s largest salt lake, Sambhar Lake and so Bhambhu had an onerous task at hand – overcome the problem of saltwater that could foil his green plan. He devised ways to counter it, and chose trees that could withstand water scarcity in the arid state.
He bought six acres of land in Harima village near Nagaur in 1999 and over the years, planted 11 thousand saplings, and today that patch of land has turned into a lush green forest and is the abode of hundreds of animals and birds. “Nagaur experiment proves that plants can grow in saltwater. We carried water from elsewhere, mixed it with saltwater to nurture this forest. Watering these saplings was a task in itself, but totally worth it. Our successful experiment here proves it. There are all kinds of trees in this forest, and what better than trees for rainwater harvesting. These are the biggest oxygen generators,” he adds.
Currently, the septuagenarian is in mission mode to plant five lakh more saplings by 2030 in the state. “I look at the 7 Js – jal (water), jungle (forest), jameen (land), jeev (animals), jaivik (organic farming), jalvayu (climate change), and jansankhya (population) – as the major standpoints of my green plan because each are inter-related,” he highlights.