Antaryami Sahu is known name in Odisha. People have nicknamed him 'Gachha' sir as Gachha in Odiya means trees. Sahu was barely 11 years old when he first planted a banyan tree sapling in his school. The motive behind this was not the traditional Earth Day celebration but just a young boy's love for trees, his environment and the world as a whole. There was no looking back after that. Whenever he found the means, he would plant trees in the backyards or public spaces around his village.
Carried Out Massive Drives
When asked about his inspiration, Gachha Sir told The Logical Indian that he never really had any motivation. Still, when he used to look outside at the trees and the birds, he realised that our lives as humans are dependant on wildlife and trees. Born in December 1946, he joined as a primary teacher in 1973 and carried out massive drives to spread awareness about trees and wildlife. Since 1985, he started focusing on nature and wildlife near Bodha, and Nayagod as poaching was very prevalent in these particular areas. He primarily concentrated on honeybee conservation as he realised that they are an integral part of our ecosystem. After that, he started spreading awareness about it in nearby villages because ignorance on honeybee conservation would cost the agriculture dependant Indian economy a lot. He sat night and day to make posters and spread awareness about the same. He explained to people that their mere act of plucking flowers could deprive honeybees of the essential nectar. The hand-made posters made him connect with people more and enabled him to create the most interactive illustrations to highlight the impact that trees, biodiversity and animals can have on us.
In 1973, when he was a primary teacher in Luni Bahal school, he saw noticed the absence of greenery nearby. There was just barren ground for 150 students of the school to play. So, he motivated his students to plant fruit-bearing trees with him on the campus. They planted trees like papaya and mango. Sahu created a little nursery at the school to keep this zeal going. He would distribute seeds to students and their guardians to plant in their homes to further emphasise the value of trees. He stressed that it is imperative that all the species on the planet existed in harmony for a better ecological balance.
Sahu retired from Jharkata UP School in 2004 in Odisha's Boudh district. He involved the communities from nearby villages to establish Gramalakshmi Udyan by planting 200 teak trees. He was involved in tree plantations, poster-making to spread awareness about poaching, forest fires and wildlife conservation. His journey extended beyond the four walls of the classroom to numerous streets of several villages.
The parks he established are small biodiversity centres in themselves. In Boudh and Nayagoda districts, Sahu created five such small biodiversity parks, or Udyan, as he fondly calls them. The parks are known as Lumbini Udyan, Gramalakshmi Udyan, Bishwabisu Udyan, Lolita Devi Udyan and Madhav Udyan. The Lumbini Udyan was mainly created in the memory of Buddha. The peepal tree planted here in 1996 has now become a tourist spot. He emphasised that all these udyan (parks) have been made possible with the help and cooperation of local communities. He decided to involve the local community so that they remain more involved in the care-taking of the trees they planted. Also, since they were fruit-bearing trees, the people could use them as a source of income.
Between 1995 to 2000, he began to spread the word about how destructive forest fires can be for the environment. He sensitised the people about what precautions they can take to avoid artificial forest fires. This eventually led to the mitigation of the problem. In return, he felicitated them with a 'Sabujashree Samman' certificate. He has influenced thousands of students to join his campaign. .
The tree-lover covered eight districts in his campaign in the past years. The districts include Boudh, Nayagarh, Kalahandi, Nabarangpur, Koraput and many more. His campaign did not stop at just spreading awareness. He also participated in protests when he saw trees being felled for commercial purposes and spoke up against the killing of parrots and other birds. He firmly believed and propagated that the survival of all species in harmony is the only way to maintain the planet's ecological balance.
Planted Over 30,000 Trees
Gachha Sir used to collect lakhs of seeds and distribute them amongst nature lovers. Apart from saving trees and encouraging more plantations, he would maintain his nurseries. He has interacted with more than 30,000 students in various schools and colleges across the state. The septuagenarian distributed more than 20,000 seedlings to his students and their families to raise awareness. Apart from that, he has planted more than 30,000 trees across the state.
When asked about what message he would give to the younger generation and how long he plans to be associated with the initiative, Gachha Sir said, "Youngsters must take up the responsibility on their shoulders. Climate change and rising global temperatures are a result of your carelessness towards nature. If we do not stop and take corrective measures now, the future generations will curse us for leaving behind for them a world full of imbalances". He added, "I am 75-year-old now and have several diseases because of old age, I will continue to plant trees and campaign for the environment regardless. This is an endless fight, and I shall fight till my last breath."