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Forest left behind by Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani stand orphaned and endangered

Forest left behind by Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani stand orphaned and endangered
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Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani, or 'Vriksha Manav' (Tree Man) as he was fondly called by his friends and followers has literally transformed around 100 hectares of barren patch of land in Uttarakhand by planting 5 lakhs of broad-leaved and fruit bearing trees

As the serpentine two lane road from Dehradun to Tehri, touches the quaint mountain villages of Satyun and Pujargaon in Saklana Patti (belt), a dense patch of green clinging to the mountainside looms into view. At a causal glance, it seems like one of the numerous mountain forests spread over the lower Himalayas. But this forest has a unique identity, for it is not a natural one, but the handiwork of a single man spread over eight long decades. That man is Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani, or 'Vriksha Manav' (Tree Man) as he was fondly called by his friends and followers. He had taken up the cause of the Earth and Environment at a time when the buzzwords like sustainability, Eco friendliness were still sleeping in the womb of time. With his unrelenting drive (earlier it was labelled as madness) he has literally transformed the place, planting 5 lakhs of broad-leaved and fruit bearing trees in a barren patch of land measuring approximately 100 hectares. In a span of eight decades, it is not only the land which has been transformed, but the surrounding eco system too has got rejuvenated. The mass scale afforestation has helped revive several forest streams, including the river Tons, an important tributary of Yamuna.

Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani born in 1922, started planting trees when he was barely eight years old. His attachment to nature increased manifold after the death of his elder brother and first wife. He sought solace in nature in planting trees. In the later years, in spite of being head of a large family ( he fathered nine children) he would disappear for long hours and spend the whole day planting saplings. Trees were his everything- his real family, his parents, his friends and his world. In the lush green village of Pujargaon in Saklana Patti, Tree Man has been planting trees on the mountains over the past 80 years. Throughout the history of independent India, he has been planting, planting and only planting ceaselessly. He has prepared the soil, implemented novel rainwater harvesting methods, taken care of the plants right up to an age of three and nurtured them all through their growth. In lost his eyesight because mud and pebbles went into his eyes while planting trees. But, that did not deter him. Even without eyesight, he planted thousands of trees.

The family associates this deep love for nature harboured by Vishweshwar Dutt with the unique dowry of 100 devdar (cidar) saplings once received by their ancestors. The seed of the forest was sown at that time and further carried forward in a big way by Vishweshwarji. The grand old dame, the first Devdar tree of the region, still stands tall and proud in the Saklana forest.

Vishweshwar Dutt is internationally well known and has even been featured by a couple of foreign TV channels. He was honoured with the Indira Priyadarshini Award in 1986 by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. When he was given Vriksha Mitra (Friend of Tree) award in 1986, an interesting situation arose. The forest department had already ongoing cases registered against him for planting trees in forest land without permission. This was a strange situation where a man was receiving awards for his contribution to protecting the environment but simultaneously being charged with planting trees! The cases were finally dropped in 1991.

The love for nature drove Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani to take part in several agitations concerned with nature and its abuse He participated in the anti-mining movements in hills and also became part of famous Chipko movement in 1970, working closely with leaders like Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunder Lal Bahuguna. He not only fought to save natural resources and protect people's rights, but also demonstrated by erecting a rich and vast forest that it can be done without any help or funding from forest department, government or any NGO. He knew that trees are important not only to save the forests and mountains, but are also crucial for the survival of people and society.

Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani recently passed away in 2019 at the age of 96. As a tribute to his memory his family and followers have planted a sapling in his hand crafted forest lovingly titled Smriti Van ( Memory Forest) as they fervently believe that his spirit dwells in the forests he helped grow. "He would often say that he had not nine but 5 lakh children and he will always be found amongst his children," his son said and added "Even till his last days, with almost nil eyesight, he used to climb the mountains every day, starting around 5 am. It was difficult to keep pace with him in the mountains. He used to climb effortlessly and manoeuvre difficult turns without support."

Uttarakhand has suffered massive mass migration from the hills to plains in the last few decades. Instead of providing employment, environment friendly road structures and good health and education facilities, the government and planners have foisted large dams and big development projects on the mountains.

It has resulted in loss of ecology and biodiversity, and hasn't helped the ecology or economy of the hill folks. Today, there is a need to protect the forests of the region and preserve the biodiversity. Vishweshwar Dutt made that effort quietly and continuously.

Today after his departure, the forests he left behind stand orphaned and endangered. The people of the region, particularly the youth need to come forward and strive to preserve the legacy of the 'Tree Man' who always said "The 3 kg pickaxe is my pen, Earth my book Tree Trunks its pages, Branches representing words while Leaves are the vowels and

consonants. I keep writing with this pen."

Location: Smriti Van at Saklana is located just 50 km from Dehradun, the state capital of Uttarakhand.

Accommodation: Visitors (group of up to 8 people) can stay with the Saklani family at the village Pujargaon in Saklana.

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