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Sheshandeep Kaur, (third from left) sarpanch of Manak Khanna village, has won two awards for development

Bringing back lost ecology in Punjab with mini forests

Rakesh Agrawal

Published: Apr. 22, 2024
Updated: Apr. 22, 2024

VAST fields, trundling tractors and roads typify Punjab’s rustic landscape. But there are signs that this topography is changing in small ways. Villages are planting mini forests on patches of idle land, breaking the monotony of miles of flat land. Punjab’s forest cover is a mere 3.8 percent and attempts are being made to replace its lost green canopy.

“You know, our village was once fertile, with trees and ponds,” says Sheshandeep Kaur, sarpanch of Manak Khanna village in Bathinda district. “The Green Revolution and industrialization made our land barren and dry. We are now trying to revive our past ecology.”

Sheshandeep is just 28 years old and the second youngest sarpanch in Punjab. She’s won two awards. For development of roads in her village she has got the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Panchayat Empowerment Award. And for regularly convening the gram sabha she has been given the Nanaji Deshmukh Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Award.

Sheshandeep has undertaken water harvesting, restored the local school and library, and her village has a solid waste project in place. She’s now taking part in an initiative, Plant for Punjab, by Sunny Gurpreet Singh, an American of Punjabi descent. His ambition is to plant trees in thousands across the state by 2035. “Trees will restore my native state to its pre-Green Revolution glory again,” explains Sunny, who launched the RoundGlass Foundation in 2014 to start a tree restoration revolution to improve people’s well-being.

“We have planted trees in about 1,000 villages creating 900 mini forests. Plantation work has provided temporary employment to thousands of villagers,” says Aditya Amit Gundh, head of the foundation’s corporate communications department. Forests improve soil health, reduce erosion and recharge groundwater. “Native species like kikar, beri, reru and phulai, suited to the state’s climate and soil, are being planted. Some of these are on the brink of extinction,” says Gundh.

Manak Khanna village has a mini forest of 1,000 trees. Sheshandeep has mobilized MGNREGA funds to plant saplings on common land. Each worker gets paid `302 for an eight- hour work schedule.

Mini forests are popping up in villages like Kheri Bir Singh in Fatehgarh Sahib, Mamara in Faridkot, Sadhanpur in Derabassi, Sadowal in Baranala, Karyal in Moga and Chajli in Sangrur. RoundGlass’ methodology is to first identify sarpanches enthusiastic about raising forests. The sarpanch then identifies spaces ripe for plantation. “Priority is given to barren and unusable land, including land that may not be easily accessible. Once a patch is identified, it is prepared for plantation with local labour. The village council seeks MGNREGA funds from the district administration to pay workers. One worker is expected to plant 200 saplings under the Van Mitra scheme,” says Vishal Chawla, a spokesperson for the Foundation. In the past they even converted land around crematoria into mini forests.

RoundGlass Foundation tracks and monitors progress and maintains a database of the mini forests it has helped create for three years. After that the village is expected to look after it.

In Sangrur district sarpanches like Gurbakshish Singh of Mander Khurd, Dharmindar Singh of Changal, Gurjeet Singh from Bari, Kiranjeet Kair of Chatha Sekhvan and Bahadur Singh from Bugran villages have joined the tree planting mission.

Apart from providing an income for 100 days to local workers, mini forests have other spin- offs. Children go there to play. Villagers spend time there and report reduced stress, better sleep and happiness. The number of birds has increased. Sparrows, owls and parrots are now commonly spotted nesting in the mini forests. Villagers say they hadn’t spotted many of these birds for decades. Bees, butterflies and insects have made a comeback.

“We come here for bird watching or just to soak in the greenery. It’s a very tranquil place,” says Gurdeep Singh, a resident of Kaulsedi village in Sangrur district. He has planted 9,000 saplings on his 4.5 acres. “I also got a pond dug on my own for birds and small animals. Punjabis share a collective desire to create a beautiful environment in Punjab,” he says.

Mostly deciduous trees which shed leaves have been planted. The leaves mix with the topsoil, creating mulch which improves microflora and overall soil health. The mini forests also act as germplasm conservation banks. Branch cuttings and fruit seeds are taken to raise new saplings in nurseries set up by the Foundation.These mini forests have also provided employment to some deprived and dispossessed women. “After the tragic loss of my husband in a road accident, the responsibility of providing for my family fell on my shoulders. Earning a living became an immense challenge. However, in March 2023, I got a job in the village nursery managed by the RoundGlass Foundation. This has helped me send all three of my daughters to school,” says Parmeet Kaur of Ghagga village in Patiala district. “In 2019, we successfully planted a mini forest. It is like an oxygen factory for our village. I’m proud to be part of this initiative.”

Often, volunteers and local eco club members pitch in to plant saplings. Tree species are chosen depending on soil quality. “We grow our own saplings in our nurseries located across four clusters near Patiala, Bathinda and Maler Kotla,” says Gunth.

Another important impact of the tree project has been the involvement of local farmers in reforestation. About 150 farmers reached out to the Foundation to create mini forests on their land. One farmer planted a mini forest on his seven acres.

Sunny Gurpreet Singh spent his early childhood in Punjab before migrating to the US. In 1996 he launched Edifecs, a healthcare technology company, which became a market leader in the US healthcare technology space. While building his company, he realized the importance of transforming the reaction based approach in the healthcare sector to one based on prevention and treatment.

With that in mind, Sunny launched his second company, RoundGlass, in 2014 to promote global “Wholistic Wellbeing” by empowering and enabling people to be healthier and happier.

“Our objective is to make Punjab a vibrant, healthier state by applying the principles of Wholistic Wellbeing,” he explains. “We are doing this through our initiatives in sports and education for children, health and hygiene, sanitation, reforestation, women’s empowerment, and by building self-reliant communities that live in harmony with nature.”

“The people of Punjab are our biggest supporters and champions. We are grateful for their generosity of spirit. They understand and identify with our mission and willingly join our mission to transform Punjab,” he says.

“They have identified the root cause of land in Punjab becoming toxic. Also, the Foundation has succeeded in involving farmers. Hopefully, our land will once again become green and fertile,” says Dr Ruhee Dugg, deputy commissioner, Faridkot.


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