Good News

A village that plants 111 trees for every girl born in Rajasthan

In an atmosphere where every morning, our newspapers greet us with stories of girls being tormented, raped, killed or treated like a doormat in one way or another, trust India’s “village republics” to bring in some good news from time to time. One such village in southern Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district is quietly practicing its own, homegrown brand of Eco-feminism and achieving spectacular results. For the last several years, Piplantri village panchayat has been saving girl children and increasing the green cover in and around it at the same time. Here, villagers plant 111 trees every time a girl is born and the community ensures these trees survive, attaining fruition as the girls grow up. Over the last six years, people here have managed to plant over a quarter million trees on the village’s grazing commons- inlcuding neem, sheesham, mango, Amla among others. On an average 60 girls are born here every year, according to the village’s former sarpanch Shyam Sundar Paliwal, who was instrumental in starting this initiative in the memory of his daughter Kiran, who died a few years ago. In about half these cases, parents are reluctant to accept the girl children, he says. Such families are identified by a village committee comprising the village school principal along with panchayat and Anganwadi members. Rs. 21,000 is collected from the village residents and Rs.10,000 from the girl’s father and this sum of Rs. 31,000 is made into a fixed deposit for the girl, with a maturity period of 20 years. But here’s the best part. “We make these parents sign an affidavit promising that they would not marry her off before the legal age, send her to school regularly and take care of the trees planted in her name,” says Mr. Paliwal. People also plant 11 trees whenever a family member dies. But this village of 8,000 did not just stop at planting trees and greening their commons. To prevent these trees from being infested with termite, the residents planted over two and a half million Aloevera plants around them. Now these trees, especially the Aloevera, are a source of livelihood for several residents. “Gradually, we realized that aloevera could be processed and marketed in a variety of ways. So we invited some experts and asked them to train our women. Now residents make and market aloevera products like juice, gel, pickle etc,” he says. The village panchayat, which has a studio-recorded anthem and a website of its own, has completely banned alcohol, open grazing of animals and cutting of trees. Villagers claim there has not been any police case here for the last 7-8 years. Mr. Paliwal recalls the visit of social activist Anna Hazare, who was very happy with the progress made by the village, he says. “But Rajasthan is quite backward in terms of village development compared to panchayats in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra etc. So we need to work hard towards creating more and more empowered villages,” says the former sarpanch, hoping the government listens to him.



Abdul Kareem: A seed sent from heaven

For 25 years Abdul Kareem has put his protective arms around a rocky hill side- to let it bloom. It is dark at noon. A thick, wet leaf pile squelches underfoot. Often your way is blocked and you must crawl under branches or take detours. The silence of the forest is sometimes unnerving. Every now and then you are lost and can’t tell the way. Abdul Kareem, in front of you, wends and weaves through the thicket with a proud ease. But then he has been around here – for 25 years, in fact. He has seen the 32 acres of a lateritic hillside grow into this wild forest. He had simply dreamed it, willed it, kept vigil, stood guard, ran a few errands- and the forest happened. And is still happening: it’s a work in progress. Abdul Kareem has created and saved forever a piece of wilderness for India. The pull of Kaavu: Abdul Kareem is one of India’s midnight children. He was born in 1947 at Nileswar, a small town on the NH7 between Kasargod and Payyanur in Kerala. His father Abdullah was a small time businessman. After passing his high school and a year in college, Kareem decided to venture out to India’s Big Apple – Bombay! He worked in a private dockyard as a labourer to learn the ropes. Just when he thought he had found himself a vocation, he was shaken by parochial riots in 1969. Back in Nileshwar he taught himself book-keeping and typewriting with assistance from the Muslim Waqf board. He began to earn a steady income as an itinerant accountant. Marriage followed and also some good fortune. The Persian Gulf boom began in the early 1970s and Abdul Kareem sensed an opportunity. He began a travel and placement service for the thousands of Keralites eager to flood the Gulf. These details are relevant, for, we have so far no indications of the man he would become. His wife came from the village of Puliyamkulam, about 20km from Nileswar. He would often visit there with her and spend some weekends. And that’s how he came by his hill. “I would walk around the area and see barren hill sides,” he says. “It was a heartache of a sight and yet the pull on me was strong. I suddenly realised that I had often –though only for brief moments– dreamt of the Kaavu of India’s collective memory. They were the Sacred Groves that every village had once upon a time. I had been told of them as a child. I think I had sub consciously yearned for one.” So, on an impulse he bought 5 acres of barren rock with a pathetic well. And instantly became a laughing stock. During the next monsoons he stood on his land and was nearly washed away by a roaring flood along the rocky laterite surface. Yet,the well just blinked and had no water to show. Gut steering: Kareem was a man who was neither lettered nor connected to any source of information that would help him. He trusted his guts. He was a man haunted by his desire for a Kaavu. After about a year of helplessly watching his property, he began to plant mature saplings of wild trees in spaces between laterite rocks. During the summer he would fetch water in cans lashed to his motorbike from a source a kilometre away. The reasonably successful travel business was seeing all its surpluses flow into this impossible dream. Landowners nearby found in Abdul Kareem an exit route. For decades their rocky spreads had produced nothing and here was a crazy man willing to buy them. As his family watched in panic amazement, Abdul Kareem bought 32 acres of a rocky slope. For three summers, he nursed his plants with water ferried from afar. And then nature sent him a feed back. “In the third year, when my plantation was but of young adult trees, the water level in the well rose!’ he says. “That itself seemed an end for me and I began to plant the whole extent in a frenzy.” He chose a variety of plants plucked from the wild and let nature do the rest. He learnt that you enable nature, not direct it. Birds began to arrive and discharge all manner of seeds. Weeds grew and amidst them rare herbs and medicinal plants – none chosen by Kareem. Water levels in Kaliyanam, Varranjnyur and other villages within a 10km radius rose. The once barren hill was now a water sponge. He has never weeded his acres, never lopped a tree, never swept the leaves, never hunted game, never selected a species and of course, never used a chemical of any kind. “My rewards are the highly mineralised, herbalised water, the fragrant air, the daily walks through the woods, a healthy life and an enormous peace,” he says. He has for over ten years, lived in a house, built in the forest. Not a shred of plastic or paper is seen anywhere. They are a part of his long list of no- nos along with cars, noise, smoking, fire or partying. Notices and needs: Recognition has been trickling in. Environmentalists and the media are beginning to take notice of this self taught man. The 5 litre well of yore fills to the brim and spills over for weeks after the monsoon subsides. Hare, fowl and other small game have colonised the forests. Beehives –the size of a sack– are emerging. There was a dry inherited tank on the land. He says today, he can pump a 100,000 litres out of it at a go and the level will bounce back in a few minutes. “The forest is actually producing water!’ he exclaims. The water is almost like a meal. The soil under a thick, wet, leaf pile crawls with soil animals that are almost angry at being disturbed. His children have grown and the growing family has its monetary needs but Abdul Kareem having put all his eggs in this forest has no cash. He hopes now to strike a balance between preserving his growing dream and his growing responsibilities. He talks of marketing the water for the table. With a sensitive business partner, the acreage would be a great eco-destination. Nileswar railhead is a comfortable motoring distance. It should also be possible to aid Kareem if academics with grants wished to spend time researching his forest. A small eco-school is another possibility. GoodNewsIndia appeals to its readers to connect this man with an opportunity. He is willing to discuss any sensitive proposal. We are about to part. “Deep inside everyone of us is a call to the wild,” he says broodingly. He then adds in many simple words: “Much of the impatience, discontent or violence around us is due to a lack of opportunity to reconnect with where we came from. For sanity and generosity of spirit, we should be able to witness nature at its unceasing, rejuvenating work.” He waits for us to leave. In a moment, he will return to his forest, his soul.

Abdul Kareem


Parappa Post- 671 533

Kasargod District, Kerala

Phone: 91-0499-754233 / 754283



A story of a banker turned farmer in Bihar

“Farming is fascinating. The only thing is that it requires continuous hard-work and devotion without any distraction” says Mr. Barun Singh, a government bank manager-turned-farmer. Mr. Barun Singh maintains a vermi-composting unit in a portion of his 10 acre land. A dairy unit is attached to the composting unit so that the cattle dung can be easily utilized for the process without much labour involvement. Waste materials like dried leaves, rotten vegetables, fruits etc is spread on a polythene sheet placed on the ground and then covered with cattle dung. Tanks are made of bricks and cement with small holes to facilitate easy movement of earthworms from one tank to another and effective collection of vermi-wash. Net profit: “The farmer made a net profit of Rs. 12 lakh from his composting unit alone which included sales of above Rs. 25 lakh in the States of Bihar and Jharkhand together with supplies to the government in 2012 and in the current year, he expects a net profit of Rs. 15 lakh since the demand for organic inputs in Bihar is quite high,” says Mr. Aditya, Assistant Professor-cum-Junior Scientist, Department of Extension Education, Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour, Bihar, who is working on an action research to catalyze rural leadership for better dissemination of information. In addition to this Mr. Barun has maintained a two-acre farm exclusively for the cultivation of tissue culture banana through high density planting (HDP) technique. “Two months old plants are growing even better than the normal banana cultivars planted at the same time in other plots,” says Mr. Barun. High Density Planting (HDP), an advance technique, is an effective method used to improve the fruit productivity. Through HDP 4,000 to 5,000 plants can be planted in a hectare and the yield improves radically. HDP technique: According to Mr. Aditya, this technique is more useful for perennial crops because it allows efficient use of land and resources, realizing higher yield and net profit, easy canopy management suited for farm mechanization, and cultural practices, efficient spray and weed control, improvement in fruit quality easy and good harvest. In India, HDP technology has been successfully used in banana, pineapple, papaya and mango, guava and citrus where the yield has increased two to three times. The combination of dairying with over 30 high yielding cows of Sahiwal, Jersy and Holstein- Friesian breed along with 28 calves, goatery with Jamapari breed of goats brought from Rajasthan, fishery in 0.75 acres of land with mix-carp variety of fish and short-duration tissue culture banana plant, maize and vegetable crops like bottle gourd, potato, ladys finger are grown in his farm. Sale of milk: From dairying alone, he is able to sale over 180 litres of milk each day fetching over Rs. 1.70 lakhs per month. The carp fish has great demand in the local market and the state capital. The demand often exceeds the supply. It is a good source to meet current expenses incurred day to day on his farm. The best part is that the crops are grown completely by organic means with no use of chemical fertilizers. Marketing: The vegetables produced from the farm are packed and sent to different parts of the state as well as the local market. Along with it, he owns a mustard processing plant to extract oil and use mustard bran as a nutritious concentrate feed for cattle,” says Mr. Aditya. “More than 80 per cent of Indian farmers have small farm holdings. The success of an agricultural research programme or project must be on increasing productivity and income to the small famer,” he adds. Mr. Barun was conferred the best Innovative Farmer Award by the university last year for his sustained efforts and leadership qualities in guiding other farmers in the region. Rural leaders:  “My dream is to intensify my current activities in the coming years to give it a shape of an agro-industry and also form a club of rural-leaders who would be trained by the University for working in the area of farming they desire,” says Mr. Barun. For visits and more information, readers can contact: Mr. Barun P. Singh, Gram: Patwaha, Block: Kehra, Dist, Saharsa, Bihar, Mobile :08809419388 and Mr. Aditya, Assistant Professor-cum-Junior Scientist, Department of Extension Education, Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour, Bihar. Email:  Mobile: 9798649444.




This Man Travels 20 Kms Every Day Just To Make Education More Interesting For His Students

Overcoming all obstacles to bring a change in the lives of others not only requires the zeal to do so but also the determination of not giving up mid-way. Kamlesh Zapadiya exemplifies this statement truly. A man living on a farm with almost no access to electricity has managed to build a website for students to engage them into studies in a fun-filled way. Read more to know how. “Education is the biggest gift one can give to the country,” believes Kamlesh Zapadiya, a primary school teacher who travels 20 kms everyday from his village to a cybercafé in a nearby town to make education more interesting for his students. Hailing from Rajkot, Gujarat, this 35-year old man was very unhappy with the way he saw children studying. He always believed that studies should be fun and students should understand and enjoy what they learn. After much thinking he came up with an idea to convert the entire syllabus from classes 1 to 10 into a quiz format. “It is like Kaun banega Crorepati,” Zapadiya says. He, along with his friends, has developed a website called Edusafar where they upload the entire syllabus. The format has also been recognized by Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad. The syllabus can also be downloaded free of cost from the website. “The quiz format module and the syllabus are ready to be used. They just need a final proofreading and we are waiting for that to officially launch the books,” Zapadiya says. Edusafar was started by Zapadiya and his friends after reading and researching many articles on educational aids, tutorials and tools. “While I was researching, I learnt a lot of interesting things and I wanted to share them with the public. Hence, Edusafar has all the study materials and information that one needs related to primary and secondary education,” says Zapadiya. “The idea is to make education simpler and easy to understand. Being a teacher, I understand the troubles faced by students and this site is expected to act as a tool for simpler learning alternatives,” says Zapadiya. The website is managed by a team of 6 members who are all teachers in various schools of Gujarat. The Challenges: “The biggest challenge is electricity. I live in a wadi (orchard) to take care of the farm with my family so whenever I have to do something I have to travel very far to get the laptop and phone connected,” Zapadiya says. Another challenge is communicating with the other members. As there are very limited modes of communication in the village, it is very hard to get everyone available at the same time. The future: Zapadiya plans to develop an app for those who are preparing for competitive exams. The app will have various general knowledge and current affairs questions from which a user can learn with just a click. “There are no such apps or books in Gujarati. For those who don’t understand English and still want to crack these exams, this app could come in handy,” he says. “The idea was to make students interested in the subject rather than forcing them to cram the letters in the book. I think this will really help the current education system which is theory- and book-based,” Zapadiya says. Zapadia was among 100 teachers who were felicitated by the Gujarat Innovative Education Council and the Gujarat Council of Educational Research and Training, for their innovative ideas in education. It is people like Zapadiya who inspire each one of us to take a stand and bring a change no matter how tough the situation is. In spite of the biggest obstacle of lack of electricity, Zapadiya has managed to produce something that could change the lives of thousands of people.