A film fest for planting trees in Himachal


By: Rajeev Sapahiya

PALAMPUR: Among the galaxy of film festivals organised all over the world every year, this one, held in a nondescript village on the footsteps of the Himalayas, was a special one. The Nai–Taleem Film Festival held at a small Tibetan village, Tashi Jong, in the Palampur tehsil of Himachal Pradesh, on December 8 and 9, 2006, was not bejeweled with star power, but it certainly was a crowd puller. It was a film fest where films became a secondary involvement; what mattered was another activity – planting trees!

How it happened
An enthusiastic group of youths landed up at a little village adjoining a Tibetan monastery, and, moved by the breathtaking beauty of the place, decided to do something for the place. Nudged by their city instincts, planting trees was a natural choice. But, to their surprise what they heard was – ‘Do anything you like, but please don’t plant trees in this village.’ The group wondered why a ‘neutral thing’ as planting trees would have such resistance.

The answer, they found out, was complex but nevertheless simple to believe. “People who live here depend on their livestock. Grazing cows is a common phenomenon here. A lot of land where they could send their cows freely for grazing is partly covered with Lantana (Lal Pholnu – a rampantly growing wild weed, which is not edible for cows or other animals and covers the land without allowing anything else to grow there) and another part is covered with pine tree leaves which don’t disintegrate easily… thus preventing grass from growing there,” says Bhakti, a Mumbai-resident, who led the group.

“Now, if we are going to grow trees in whatever land is left, then where will we send our cows for grazing?” That’s the question they faced from villagers. So Bhakti and her group offered to attempt cleaning the place covered with Lantana, only to find out that that’s not an easy thing to do either. Lantana has deep roots, is hard to pull out and is tedious to work with.

After doing some research on this issue, talking to local NGOs, people from Palampur Agriculture University and environmentalists, the group found that there were many ‘methods’ to get rid of the wild weed. But, to their amazement, they realised that Lantena is not a hazard by itself. In fact, it’s a good way to prevent soil erosion.

“On learning more, we decided to do a small Lantana eradication demonstration with the advice of the agriculture university. On July 30, youth from both communities (Tibetan and Himachalis) came together with music and tea and their draat (sickle) and began cutting Lantana from two inches above the ground around the school vicinity (land belonging to none),” remembers Bhakti.

On September 3, about a month after the cutting, a herbicide was sprayed. Rohit Sharma, a PhD student came forward to demonstration the process of how and how much Glyphosate to use. The final phase of planting trees proved the toughest bit. Why?

Because there was less manpower, no money and little support for the cause. The village youth came around whenever they could, but that was not enough. “We collected basic funds for tea and other expenses like making phone calls, printing invites, travel expenses, stationary – posters, banners and all that. The panchayat helped us with Rs 500 at first,” said a volunteer. The Phd student contributed money for the hand pump which was also rented out to villagers at times.

“Our intention was to make it everyone’s project. In short, we attempted to do our work in a way that it could be sustainable, thus we encouraged people’s participation,” Bhakti explained.

Since the trees that were to be planted, which the forest department contributed, needed protection, a fences was proposed but people were still not prepared to take up the responsibility. Erecting a fence again needed money, manpower and bamboo. “We organised a film festival called Nai–Taleem Film Festival (December 8 and 9, 2006), which talked about different ways of learning. We brought together three different artisans – a potter, a stone carver and a bamboo maker. Along with some films and some talks with children, together we all made things out of clay, stone and bamboos and watched films. Children made fences, put their names on it and got prizes too,” Bhakti quipped.

The interesting part of this film festival was that the group collected a fund of Rs 4,000 to start with. The bamboo was contributed by people in the village, the panchayat contributed another Rs 600 while the youth went around digging pits. The Tibetan village contributed with manure needed for the plantation.

This exercise brought in a sense of ownership among villagers and finally December 27, 2006 was set as the date to plant trees. Khamthrul Rinpoche, the highest order monk from the Khampagar (Tashi Jong) Monastery and the Divisional Forest Officer were invited to plant the first tree, talk to the children and show them how to do it. Children proved inexplicable as they took charge of the whole situation and planted 40 trees with minimum monitoring and maximum enthusiasm.

“Well, I hope at least some of these trees would some days bear fruit,” Bhakti reminisces.

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  1. Congratulations! Are you doing this in other parts of Himachal as well? I’m specifically interested in Kasauli

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