Most people prefer to relax after a long week of work. However, 36-year-old Selvakumar from Tiruppur in Tamil Nadu spends his time more constructively.
A native of Kangeyam, Selvakumar on weekends pedals to different parts of the state to create awareness on saving the environment by growing more trees. Selvakumar is an office assistant at Tiruppur taluk office. He wearsa “special” overcoat during his week-end mission and it is specially designed with 70pockets and they are always filled with saplings. Nearly 50 kg materials can fit into the white cotton overcoat, he says.
Holding a placard, Selvakumarcrisscrosses various places on his bicycle. Sometimes, he goes on marathon walkas part of his mission.
Selvakumar, who distributes saplings free of charge to people, plans his travel well in advance. “Before I go to a place, I obtain necessary permissions from the district collector for conducting my awareness programme. So far,I have received good support from the authorities in several districts,” Selvakumar said.
He started his mission seven years back. “Though, I had a passion for planting trees from my childhood, my first inspiration is our former president the late A P J Abdul Kalam. His speech really motivated me to do something for our environment,” said Selvakumar, who spends about Rs 3,000 every month from his salary for the cause.
“My father too asked me to do something good for society. In the beginning, my wife did not encourage my initiative, but she slowly started supportingme once I got encouragement from schools, colleges and environmentalists,” he said.
Initially, Selvakumar used to visit people personally and distribute saplings. But the experiment did not work as people did not take his efforts seriously. “Some would take saplings but will not plant them. I realised the futility of my exercise,” he added.
Then, he came up with the idea of wearing a coat filled withsaplings and from there people pick them up for free of charge.
Selvakumar carries with him, among others, saplings of palm,mango, neem andcoconut. He notes down the details of people collecting saplings from him and takes up a follow-up action to ensure that they take care of the saplings.
On many occasions, Selvakumar himself has planted saplings in several places. He claimed that till date he had visitedmore than15 districts and plantedabout 40,000 saplings. “I do notset any target for my work. I will visit several places and promote tree-plantation drive,” Selvakumar said. After covering Tamil Nadu, he has plans to extend his ambitious green drive to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
He has no regrets about losing his weekly offs and holidays. “Someone has to do this for our future generation,” he said as a matter of fact. He feels that on holidays and Sundays he can meet more people as they will not be in a hurry to attend to their work.
Selvakumar carries about 100 saplings. “After deciding my destination, I start early in the morningeither on Saturday or Sunday. It depends on availability of leave,” he said.
In the beginning he was finding it difficult to carry so many saplings in his overcoat. However, after a few trips, he got used to it. He makes sure that he wears white Gandhi cap, made of Khadi.
Selvakumar mobilises funds for his mission by making and selling paper bags at Rs 40 per kg. “When people buy them, I get extra money to meet my additional expenses,” he said. Hewas recently honoured with “Iyarkai Arvalar” (environmentalist) and “Pachai Manidhar” (green man) awards.
“I travel on cycle, if the distance is about 30 km,” he said. Selvakumar holds placards containing messages on benefits of tree plantation.
He said while travelling in a bus, he will carry saplings in a bag. “Once I alight from the bus, I put them back in my pockets,” he said. Selvakumar chooses important junctions such as collectorate area, temples and public places for distribution of saplings. Most people appreciate his concern and they realise that he is working for protection of the environment. However, in a few places, especially in Coimbatore, he did not get the required response. “It disappointed me a lot,” he said.
During summer, Selvakumar takes special care of saplings while travelling. “If I travel in summer I sprinkle water on saplingsto ensure that they do not wither in heat,” he said.
Whenever, he gets little time, Selvakumar is a busy man. He starts preparation for the next trip. For that he cleans his overcoat and it is tedious process as he has remove mud from each of the 70 pockets. After that he gives for dry cleaning.
His tailor is contributing in his own way by charging nominal rates for his overcoat. Selvakumar collects saplings from gardens and sometimes buys them.