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NGO green warriors' herculean task in Punjab, whose tree cover is lowest in India

By Sudhansu R Das 

The state of Punjab has immensely contributed to India’s freedom struggle. The frontier state worked as an impregnable shield against the marauding foreign invaders. Since independence, the Punjabis have served the Indian army with single-willed dedication, established their business all over the world, and contributed to the sports and agriculture sector.
Being a border state Punjab also suffered a lot during the foreign invasions; Punjab was the worst sufferer at the time of partition. During the green revolution in the late 60s and 70s, Punjab became the granary of India. It happened due to the hard work and strong determination of the Punjabi farmers.
Punjab has also faced the worst effects of the green revolution; the crop diversity of the state was significantly reduced. In the next three decades after the green revolution, Punjab continued to grow mono-crops like wheat and paddy; the farmers used excess chemical fertilizers, spurious seeds, and over-exploited groundwater.
This has reduced agricultural productivity; it pushed farmers to a debt trap that compelled them to commit suicide. As per a Panjab Agriculture University (PAU) study, as many as 9,291 farmers died by suicide between 2000 and 2018 in six districts of Punjab. Recently, drug and liquor addiction among the youth gives nightmares to Punjabi families.
The question is whether Punjab can reweave the social, economic, spiritual, and moral fabric and become India’s happiest and most prosperous state.
There is an awakening among the Punjabis; there is an effort to rebuild Punjab. The Sikh Gurus, social and religious activists are determined to stop liquor and drug addiction among the youth. Educated Punjabi families come forward to stem the rot; they take inspiration from the Guru Granth Saheb, the sacred scripture which has inspired the Sikhs for many centuries.
Many volunteers and Sikh Gurus are now active to save trees and repair the agriculture sector of Punjab as food sufficiency is essential for the growth and prosperity of any state.
The Naroya Punjab Manch, an NGO, is out to make Punjab green again; it chooses the legal route when they need it. The volunteers want to increase the groundwater level, which they think is the first step to repairing the agriculture sector in the state. They aim to plant as many trees as possible, which will improve the air quality, climate, and health of people in the state.
During the green revolution and aggressive deforestation in the subsequent decades, Punjab had depleted its tree cover to an alarming level and converted the state into a torture chamber during the summer season. Only 3.6% of the land area in Punjab has tree cover.
It is an embarrassingly low figure for Punjab, where the Sikh Gurus always laid emphasis on the protection of trees and water bodies. According to NITI Aayog data, Punjab has the lowest forest cover among all states.
The tree warrior activists of the Naroya Punjab Manch are hopeful of bringing back the green cover to Punjab through an awareness campaign and various cultural activities. So far the activists have planted 10,000 saplings, and they are determined to plant several thousands more trees until the aquifer is completely filled up; until the air of the state gets pollution free. The NGO has also supplied more than one lakh saplings to school children.
As a result of aggressive deforestation in decades following green revolution, only 3.6% of  land area in Punjab has tree cover
Now it is increasingly difficult for road contractors to axe trees while building roads or national highways. The volunteers dragged the deforestation issue to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the National Green Tribunal (NGT). If road construction is extremely important, the volunteers allow it and ask for compensation for the destruction of trees.
Many NGOs, intellectuals, social workers, and youth have joined the green movement and they insist authority to replant trees at the time of construction of roads and other projects. Nothing is more important than pure air and groundwater, said Balbinder Kaur, a tree activist of Punjab.
The tree warriors have also taken the village Panchayat into task for cutting trees. In fact, the village Panchayats will be the harbinger of change if they understand the importance of trees in rebuilding Punjab.
The Naroya Punjab Manch has joined hands with other non-governmental organizations to influence political leaders in order to adopt a green agenda; the volunteers insist on written assurances from the political parties stating they would save the environment from further degradation, set up a corpus for tree plantations and stop water contamination.
The green Punjab movement has got the support of many other organizations like the Cancer Roko Sewa Society, Society for Ecological & Environmental Resources (SEER), Eco Sikhs, and Kheti Virasat Mission etc.
Over decades the state has lost a large number of water bodies. The volunteers are out to document the water bodies and they involve local residents to repair the water bodies. Many volunteers opine it is the Sikh tradition and culture to give voluntary service for community good.
The green Punjab movement may restore the most precious assets for human survival- water, clean air, and soil.

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