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Light and shade

AKILA KANNADASAN

R. Karpagam has roped in an army of students to help put trees back on the streets of Coimbatore. She talks to Akila Kannadasan about her movement, Oli

Photo: M. Periasamy

“I take care of a mayil kondrai. It can live for up to 75 years. It is a shade-giving tree.”

“I take care of a jacaranda. It can grow really tall and has violet flowers.”

“I take care of a malai veembu. It has leaves like that of a neem tree.”

The young members of Oli Awareness Movement are all smiles as they speak of their tree-pals. It's a Sunday morning in Ram Nagar and the children have assembled in R. Karpagam's place. Led by her, the kids are quietly going about the business of making Coimbatore green.

Tree party

If you happened to come across a gang of kids watering a way-side tree or tending to a shrivelled sapling in the city, they are probably members of Oli. The kids are passionate about trees – they can talk about it for hours on end. “Its Karpagam athai who instilled the interest in us,” says D.Nivedhita, a second year literature student. “We have planted over 8,600 saplings in and around Coimbatore,” she adds.

It all began in 2005 when Karpagam did what most of us fail to do. Appalled by the garbage that lined the streets of Ram Nagar, she approached the Corporation Commissioner to seek action. “Ram Nagar was then like a garbage dump. There was no proper garbage disposal system,” she recalls. The then Corporation Commissioner Dr D. Karthikeyan heard her out patiently. On his advice, Karpagam went on to strengthen her cause with more supporters.

“I found seven like-minded women and approached the Commissioner once again. He immediately deployed people to get the place cleaned up.” Ram Nagar, for the first time in years, got a face-lift. Streets were clean, there were smiles all around. Thus, Oli Awareness Movement was born.

Corporation kindness

The seven ladies took turns to tend to 12 streets in Ram Nagar. “The Corporation provided us with the staff. We got lorries to move the garbage to the dump,” says Karpagam adding that work progressed “at a terrific pace.” The ladies went on to plant saplings in Ram Nagar with the Corporation's permission.

“We planted about 150 saplings from Sasthri Street to Ansari Street in one day,” says Karpagam. “The experience is unforgettable. Most of us were housewives who lived closeted lives,” she smiles. Ram Nagar is among the few localities in the city with an enviable tree-cover, thanks to Oli. “The Forest Department provided us with saplings of tall, shade-giving trees,” explains Karpagam.

Karpagam deals with all kinds of people during her campaign - stubborn neighbours, sarcastic passers-by and so on.

“I do not have many friends,” she says. “But I've also met a lot of wonderful people. Radhakrishnan, an auto-driver gives us free rides for our tree-planting expeditions.”

Karpagam says that people don't realise the importance of trees. “The response is disheartening. Some downright oppose the planting of a tree in their locality. In such cases, I explain everything to them, right from photosynthesis to global warming till they give in,” she adds. “Even educated citizens fail to understand us. But vegetable-sellers, flower-sellers, tea-shop owners, and so on, encourage the planting of saplings in their areas for shade.”

A timetable

As years moved on, Karpagam roped in her tuition students, most of them teenagers to be part of the movement. The kids are allotted a tree each, which they tend to with affection. There even is a tree-watering timetable pasted on the wall of her house. Together, Oli has planted saplings in places such as Nanjappa Road, Podanur, Ukkadam, Kattur and Kuniamuthur.

The Movement has spread its branches outside Coimbatore as well. J.Srinivasan, a class XII student says that an area near Dindigul that was once declared unfit for agriculture has come back to life after a round of tree planting initiated by him. “There are now over 75 trees in the area,” he says.

Every time a tree is to be felled in the city, information reaches Karpagam through her network of activists. Her intervention has saved the lives of several trees in the city. “Any person who approaches us for saplings will be given them free of cost,” says Karpagam.

What is more, she even arranges for free tree-guards and plants the saplings for free.

There is another face to her as well. Karpagam also wields the pen. She has composed an abridged version of Kalki Krishnamurthy's Ponniyin Selvan for children.

“There's very little literature for children in Tamil,” she says. She has also written two other books for children and edits a monthly Tamil magazine Namadhu kural for private circulation. Apart from advocates, teachers and doctors, her students also contribute to the magazine. “I want to make today's generation write in Tamil,” she says. Oli activities have exposed Karpagam to the world of women in rural areas around Coimbatore. Involving them, she has planted free saplings in about 20 villages near Thondamuthur.

She regularly interacts with women in Self Help Groups in the area. She says, “About 100 copies of the magazine are circulated among the villagers. With articles ranging from health and hygiene to cookery-tips, they can benefit from it a great deal.” If you want to know more , Karpagam can be contacted at 9894337403.

THE TREE AUTHORITY

A small group of environmentalists recently gathered at Oli's headquarters to put an end to indiscriminate felling of trees in the city.

After several rounds of brainstorming, the team came up with the concept of ‘Tree Authority' similar to that of Pune, Bangalore and Goa.

A draft for the same has been prepared and will be forwarded to the heads of various departments in the district. Once implemented, the Authority will have the power to strictly deal with the felling of trees.

Prior permission would have to be obtained from them to cut or prune a tree.

To preserve, increase and improve the green cover of Coimbatore.

To safeguard and protect the existing tree cover

To prevent indiscriminate and illegal felling of trees

THE OBJECTIVES

A small group of environmentalists recently gathered at Oli's headquarters to put an end to indiscriminate felling of trees in the city.

After several rounds of brainstorming, the team came up with the concept of ‘Tree Authority' similar to that of Pune, Bangalore and Goa.

A draft for the same has been prepared and will be forwarded to the heads of various departments in the district. Once implemented, the Authority will have the power to strictly deal with the felling of trees.

Prior permission would have to be obtained from them to cut or prune a tree.

To preserve, increase and improve the green cover of Coimbatore.

To safeguard and protect the existing tree cover

To prevent indiscriminate and illegal felling of trees

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