Muzaffarpur(Bihar): Is there any sync between climate change, social forestry and the NREGA— the central government's flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to provide jobs to the rural poor?
Though climate change and social forestry make a remarkable gel for reducing the emissions of green house gases, the induction of Nrega in it has now added a new chapter of social, environment and economy revolution in Bihar.
And the man behind this new experiment is 1991 batch Bihar cadre IAS officer SM Raju ,currently serving as the Divisional Commissioner of Tirhut, headquartered at Muzaffarpur in North Bihar.
An agriculture graduate, Raju has left behind his bad memoirs of administration during his controversial stint as Gaya District Magistrate in 90s, which also earned him suspension from the service for sometime.
After serving for a brief period in his home state Karnataka on deputation, he joined his parent cadre with a renewed zeal to show the world his guts in administration. And it found its manifestation in the massive tree plantation scheme in the region taken up by him.
And the result was more than expected and of course satisfying too for Raju—around 60,000 people are now busy looking after 1.2 crore plants and are being paid for it. And it all happened within six months this year.
Talking to iGovernment Raju says among the possible carbon offset projects forestry stands out as the project that provides major benefits for the rural areas and for the poorest people. Forestry is a labour intensive activity and properly managed, most of the investments go to pay for labour.
Forests help the local climate by reducing the temperature fluctuations between day and night. It prevents flood and soil erosion. Heavy rainfall is stopped in the crowns of the trees and the root network binds the soil, he elaborates.
Talking about climbing on this novel concept, Raju says his family and educational background were definitely natural factors for initiating this mission. "I belong to a farmer's family and have studied agriculture. Both these factors, apart from the support from my bosses in the state bureaucracy prompted me to translate this idea," he says.
Before launching this project on World Environment day on June 5 this year, he went through various survey reports on plantations including one that was carried in Jharkhand's Ranchi district.
The survey report said that out of the planted area only 17 per cent plants were found alive after three years of the plantation and only 10 per cent were grown up. This study provided a platform to design my project, he says.
"I inspected 18 villages in 18 districts in February and March 2009 and also conducted workshops in 15 districts with Mukhiyas, Zila Parisad and Panchayat Samitee members in different districts," he said.
After having face to face interaction with them, I was able to convince them about the feasibility of the project and they assured me to join the drive.
He titled his project as "Iron gabion to human gabion". Iron gabions are used in densely populated urban areas to protect plants. The calculation showed it cost Rs four lakh for 200 plants for Iron gabion protection and for Human gabion the cost was only about Rs 1.15 lakh for 3 years besides it also generated 1095 man days.
The saplings planted under the scheme are both fruit and non - fruit trees. The non fruit saplings have been planted on the banks of the embankment and along state and national highways . While fruit bearing trees are planted inside the villages.
In fact he drew a clear roadmap for the types of saplings to be planted across various topogrophical locations . Bio diesel plantations like Pongamia ,Neem and Jetropa were done along the railway track and National Highways, while bamboo plantation were carried along river embankments. Country side were chosen for fruit bearing and high yielding wood plants. Fruit bearing plantations were done along canal bunds, rural roads and government offices' premises also.
For an area which is flood prone, bamboo plantation along the Gandak river embankment from Valmikinagar in West Champaran district to Vaishali stretching about 280 kms turned out to be one of his priorities of the drive as it would "naturally check soil erosion and floods to a great extent", Raju clarifies.
Under the drive more than one lakh bamboo saplings have been planted in West Champaran till date. He plans to plant 27 lakh bamboo in flood prone districts to protect embankments and to stop erosion of rivers by March 2010.
He has successfully linked bamboo saplings with the NREGA as people engaged in planting bamboo were being paid under the NREGA.
Engaging over three lakh peoples from 8463 panchayats and 7500 villages of six districts of Tirhut Division and planting over 1.2 crore saplings is not just the end of mission for this gusty bureaucrat ." Our target is three crore plantation by March 2010. We have earmarked Rs 700 crore for this project for a period of 3 years,"he adds.
"Recently we made a world record by planting 9.6 million plants in a single day with the help of the villagers. The Guinness Book of World Records registered the plantation of 541176 saplings on a single day on July 15, 2009 in Pakistan. However, Bihar broke the record by planting almost 20 times more trees on a single day although this feat is yet to be included in the book" he sums up.
Impressed by his work, the National Institute of Administrative Research, run under the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, has recommended that other states emulate the practice of massive plantation of fruit trees and bamboo under the NREGA.