It took 17 years for Sandeep and his family to plant 5,500 saplings in the Aarey Milk Colony. A family of five from Goregaon (East), Mumbai has been planting these saplings during the monsoon period and caring for them until they become full-grown trees.
How it started
Vinay Athalye, Sandeep Athalye’s father had started this initiative in 2000; he planted about 3,500 saplings altogether which has now turned into a dense forest with 75 varieties of trees. After his death in 2015, his family has been continuing the initiative.
While talking to The Logical Indian, Sandeep said, “My father started planting the saplings in 2000 with the support from a club of walkers, people joined the group and helped him. He always wanted to contribute something distinctive to nature”, Sandeep added.
Sandeep, with his mother, wife and four-year-old son, has planted almost 5,500 saplings till date. In 2016, they started a butterfly garden near the Aarey dairy. Today the garden is humming with 15-20 species of butterflies. While recalling his father’s words, Sandeep said, “My father would tell me that nature bestows us with many gifts and its amazing beauty will make you feel calm and restful. So, It is our duty to return the favour”.
Sandeep started planting more saplings
Sandeep first planted 100 saplings at unit 16 in Aarey, and the saplings were protected by the walkers’ club. Then over the next 15 years, at Panchavati, New Zealand hostel, VIP guest house, Gaondevi Road and MHADA Road, he planted more than 3,500 saplings.
“At Panchavati, my father planted about 550 saplings from 2004 onwards. We took care of them, and today, it is a dense forest with 75 varieties of trees. The focus should not just be on planting trees. He further added, “Trees should be taken care of for at least next three to four years. That is how you take care of your children too”.
After Sandeep’s initiative of planting 2,000 saplings in Aarey, his recent initiative is the butterfly garden with 700 trees and 70 nectar plant species, including Jamaican spike, Lemon, Jatropha, Pentas, Exoras and many other species. He said, “These are mostly plants that will attract the butterflies and help with their life cycle”. Adding that his son has planted saplings all by himself and loves to be in the company of butterflies. “I intentionally take my child to the garden. I want to see him playing with the soil and get involved in the process.”
Their efforts come at a time when Aarey is being besieged by several development projects. Apart from a car depot and stabling lines for a Metro line, three plots have been marked for Metro VII. The green lung faces a threat as the state is considering to change the land use from no-development zone to green zone, to pave the way for more constructions and lastly several encroachments that have been cropping in different parts of the 3,166 acres of land.
What motivated Sandeep
“The motivation behind working tirelessly to building this comes from my father, who always said that it is important that we give back as much as we can to nature,” he said.
Sandeep believes that many of our environmentally caused problems would start decreasing if we started to nurture the nature. He asserted that once upon a time in Mumbai, despite the scorching heat, the Aarey colony would remain pleasant. Those days seem to have long gone now. If we preserve nature, we can certainly reverse some of the damage caused so far.
“If you want to preserve the nature, three steps have to be followed; first, plantation of trees. Second, water preservation and third – there should be no encroachments”, said Sandeep.
Over the years, the Athalye family has been joined by many nature lovers and NGOs. “In the beginning, we bought our saplings and planted them, but after a while, we began receiving donations and saplings from different groups that joined us on weekends,” said Sandeep.
The family plans to continue their efforts to conserve it. “The next generation needs to realise its value and why it’s necessary to double the number of plantations for every project. Development cannot come at the cost of the environment,” said Sandeep.
To more about Aarey dairy butterfly garden, click here.
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