Location : Pondicherry
At a time when global warming and climate change pose a threat to the environment, a 50-year-old man in Villupuram district is on a mission to conserve local biodiversity and live in communion with nature.
D. Saravanan, an environmentalist from Poothurai, has transformed a 100-acre tract of barren land devoid of vegetation cover, into a lush green forest, which is now home to over 240 species of birds (both resident and migrant), 54 butterfly species and numerous species of reptiles and mammals.For the past 26 years, Mr. Saravanan, a life member of the Save Western Ghats movement and an Aurovillian has protected this vast stretch of land, which is part of the Auroville bio-region, by building check dams and allowing the wasteland to re-wild by planting over 35,000 species of indigenous plants collected from sacred groves and forests from both the Eastern Ghats and Western Ghats.
The Aranya Forest and Sanctuary is now a pleasant green landscape with trees of multifarious varieties and different species. Aranya, a tropical, dry, evergreen forest, has deep canyons and rocky terrain, interspersed with rivulets joining the Oussudu Lake. The ravines are also home to the Eagle Owl and the critically-endangered Slender Loris.Aranya attracts students and researchers who come to the forest and take part in workshops, birdwatching and research activities.
The land, comprising of red laterite soil was once almost a barren site. Driven by his zeal to make it a forest with different species of trees, Mr. Saravanan feels that where there is a will there would be a way. That was 26 years ago, and since then, there has been no looking back.“In the 1990s, the whole area was severely eroded with virtually no vegetative cover, barring a few Palmyra trees. Aurovillian Joss Brooks of Pitchandikulam invited me to take care of the place. He introduced me to the Auroville Green Work Resource Centre (AGWRC) where I worked as an assistant coordinator, teaching environmental education and organic farming,” says Mr. Saravanan.
Aranya was started as a sub-project of AGWRC by Mr. Saravanan, with Aurovilians Rauf Ali and Auro Nevi. “That’s when the initiative began, and between 1994 and 1997, over 36,000 indigenous tree species were planted under a project funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC),” he adds.Mr. Saravanan experimented with rain-fed afforestation and planted saplings collected from over 150 sacred groves in and around Puducherry. The genetic stock came from Gingee, Tiruvannamalai, Mailam, Puthupet and Jawadhu Hills.We planted a whole mix of species like Diospyrus Melanoxylon, Memecylon Umbelatum and the critically-endangered Derris Ovalifolia. Local stakeholders were also roped in and steps were initiated to enhance the water table and prevent soil erosion,” he says.
The saplings were planted before the onset of the monsoon and were watered for a few months and then allowed to grow without any support. From then, the plants recorded a healthy survival rate and the green cover extended to three villages surrounding Aranya, he says.Mr. Saravanan had a keen interest in nature and environmental issues right from his childhood.
An associate of Sundarlal Bahaguna of the Chipko movement, Mr. Saravanan has participated in the Save Western Ghats movement of 1987, the anti-Tehri dam movement of Uttarakhand, and been involved with the Annamalai Reforestation Society.Mr. Saravanan says that he has plans to star such projects in other parts, as trees are essential not only for a healthy environment, but also for maintaining biodiversity.
by S. Prasad