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Van Mahotsav: The Festival Of Plantation Drive In India

The festival of 'Van Mahotsav' is celebrated every year in the country in a bid to raise awareness about the importance of trees and encourage people to plant more of them

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Van Mahotsav is now a week-long festival, celebrated on different days in different parts of India, but usually between 1 July to 7 July. Wikimedia Commons
Van Mahotsav is now a week-long festival, celebrated on different days in different parts of India, but usually between 1 July to 7 July. Wikimedia Commons
  • The survival of the human race wouldn’t have been possible without trees
  • The festival of ‘Van Mahotsav’ is celebrated every year in the country in a bid to raise awareness about the importance of trees
  • Going by the Van Mahotsav history, the choice of picking the first week of July to celebrate the festival was indeed a visionary move

“A soil adapted to the growth of plants is necessarily prepared and carefully preserved; and, in the necessary waste of land which is inhabited, the foundation is laid for future continents, in order to support the system of the living world.”

– James Hutton

The survival of the human race wouldn’t have been possible without trees. Serving mankind since time immemorial with its shade and cover, food and livelihood resources, trees play a vital role in sustaining life on the planet. As the population in India grows at an uncontrollable rate, the need for more infrastructure and living spaces continues to engorge whatever remains of the forest cover in the country. In fact, according to a report by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the total remaining tree cover of India that included forests and non-forest areas was 24.16% in 2015.

Also Read: Significance of the Diwali, Celebrations & Rituals, Date & Diwali Recipes

The festival of ‘Van Mahotsav’ is celebrated every year in the country in a bid to raise awareness about the importance of trees and encourage people to plant more of them. The festival finds mass participation of people, including government agencies, civic bodies and educational institutions across the country who come together every year to plant saplings.

According to a report by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the total remaining tree cover of India that included forests and non-forest areas was 24.16% in 2015. Wikimedia Commons
According to a report by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the total remaining tree cover of India that included forests and non-forest areas was 24.16% in 2015. Wikimedia Commons

 Van Mahotsav History

In order to promote annual tree-planting movement, which is also known as Van Mahotsav, the festival was started on August 21, 1950, by Kulapati Dr KM Munshi, then the honoured Union Minister for Agriculture and Food, to create enthusiasm among masses for forest conservation and planting trees. He planted the first of 108 saplings donated by the Delhi Gujarati Samaj. Rendering the idea to that of a festival where the contribution of the silent sentinels towards the planet would be celebrated rather than just organising a plantation drive, he wanted people to be enthusiastic towards the cause just as one would be during other festivals.

Dr KM Munshi also intended to inculcate consciousness and love for trees among the citizens and popularise planting and tending of trees in farms, villages, and municipal and public lands. Interestingly, the term Van Mahotsav first cropped up in July 1947 after a successful tree plantation drive that was held in Delhi and saw the participation of national leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad and Abdul Kalam Azad.

Going by the Van Mahotsav history, the choice of picking the first week of July to celebrate the festival was indeed a visionary move. Marking the onset of monsoon season in most parts of the country, most saplings planted during this period have more chances of survival than the ones planted during other times of the year.

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It is now a week-long festival, celebrated on different days in different parts of India, but usually between 1 July to 7 July. The Van Mahotsav festival began after a flourishing tree planting drive which was undertaken in Delhi, in which national leaders participated. The festival was simultaneously celebrated in a number of states in India. That festival followed the plantation of millions of saplings of diverse species with the energetic participation of local people and various agencies like the forest department. The new awareness spread as the “Chipko Movement” rose in popularity as a crusade to save mother earth.

Van Mahotsav festival was started on August 21, 1950, by Kulapati Dr KM Munshi, then the honoured Union Minister for Agriculture and Food. Wikimedia Commons
Van Mahotsav festival was started on August 21, 1950, by Kulapati Dr KM Munshi, then the honoured Union Minister for Agriculture and Food. Wikimedia Commons

Aims Of The Van Mahotsav Day

The continuous demolishing level of trees in India has been a problem for a long time, and Van Mahotsav is important in creating awareness of the issues. According to the forest department, for every tree felled ten trees should be planted to make up for its loss. The festival raises the awareness of trees among people and highlights the need for planting and tending of trees as one of the best ways to prevent global warming and reduce pollution. It helps spread awareness about the harm caused by the cutting down of trees, and it is expected that every citizen of India will plant a sapling in the Van Mahotsav week.

Some of the objectives of Van Mahotsav day as visualized by Dr KM Munshi are as follows:

  1. Providing alternative fuel options

2. Provide fodder leaves for cattle to relieve the intensity of grazing over reserved forests

3. To increase production of fruits, which could be added to the potential food resources of the country

4. Aid in creating shelter-belts around agricultural fields to increase their productivity

5. Boost soil conservation and prevent further deterioration of soil fertility

Also Read: Saphala Ekadashi: Significance, Celebrations, Rituals, Festival Timings and Dates

Planting of trees also helps to avoid soil erosion which may cause floods. Apart from all these aids, sowing trees can be extremely effective in slowing down global warming and trees also help in reducing pollution as they make the air cleaner. More than anything else, it offers a natural aesthetic beauty.

On 5th June 2015, Indian Naval Academy Ezhimala also came up with tree plantation drive. Wikimedia Commons
On 5th June 2015, Indian Naval Academy Ezhimala also came up with tree plantation drive. Wikimedia Commons

VAN Mahotsav India

In India, people celebrate Van Mahotsav day by planting trees or saplings in homes, offices, schools and colleges. The various organizations and volunteers have taken up the free circulation of trees as well. An event that sees lakhs of saplings being planted every year, Van Mahotsav is indeed a celebration of life. With the ever-growing, life-threatening perils of global warming and pollution. The festival aims at increasing the green cover of India.

The stress on planting native trees are more, as they most readily adapt to local conditions, supports local biodiversity and have a high survival rate. In order to supply saplings to various organizations and institutions such as schools, colleges and academic institutions, NGOs and welfare organizations for planting trees, state Governments and civic bodies play a vital role. In India, the most suitable time for tree planting in July, as it is the onset of the monsoon season and likely to be more effective.

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As at 2016, tree cover of India (including forests and non-forest areas) was 23.81%. The Government of India has set a target of 33% cover by 2020. In 2015 the State Government of Assam announced that it intended to plant 25 lakh(2.5 million) trees. The officials of Assam said, this would not only benefit the environment but also have a direct influence on the socio-economic development of Assam, which has 70% or its people working in the agricultural sector. Due to the recent state drought, the Maharashtra state government has taken upon itself to give the state a green makeover. The lack of green cover or forests not only disturbs the delicate balance of nature but also harms the ecosystem of the animals. Droughts and floods are a great indicator of this disturbance.

Van Mahotsav festival boosts soil conservation and prevent further deterioration of soil fertility. Wikimedia Commons
Van Mahotsav festival boosts soil conservation and prevent further deterioration of soil fertility. Wikimedia Commons

To lend some encouraging support, even the Indian Army has taken up the plantation drive and is aiming at planting lakhs of tree saplings in the state of Maharashtra. Reportedly, the army and the state government have already planted at least seven or eight lakh trees across Maharashtra’s state capital, Mumbai. On 5th June 2015, Indian Naval Academy Ezhimala also came up with tree plantation drive.

‘The Better India’ alongside ‘NAATA Foundation’ has initiated a program, ‘Plant a Tree and Gift a Living, by planting 5000 fruit trees in Aarey Milk Colony, Mumbai. Each of these saplings needs an approximate amount of Rs 100 for their nourishment over the period of 2-3 years, after which they will be sufficient to supplement the income of the community by adding an additional source of livelihood, while also restoring the tree cover of the area.

Next Story

The Errant Son: Mir Murtaza And Al-Zulfiqar

Would the Bhutto charm, have worked on India? And had it been so, would the map of the Indian sub-continent today, have resembled the idea of a free market zone in South Asia, with porous borders?

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By: Tania Bhattacharya

India-Pakistan relations have hit a record low following the dastardly Pulwama Attack on a CRPF convoy in Indian administered Kashmir, on the 14th of February this year. Curiously, the Pakistan PM Imran Khan, made a statement a few days ago, endorsing the Indian PM Modi, and suggesting, that in case there was a re-election of the latter, the Kashmir issue may be finally resolved. This scenario is significant, given that both Imran and Modi, are perceived hardliners in their respective nations. As some South Asian policy watchers have noted, it is hawks like the two aforementioned heads of state, and not peaceniks, who are more likely to take large risks over bilateral issues involving the two neighbours, since if any of them is required to acquiesce, they cannot be labelled as anti-nationals. Peaceniks, their good intentions aside, are looked upon with suspicion in their countries, which accuse them of selling out.

 

These are the heady days of jingoist patriotism in South Asia, where Right Wing organizations seem to be faring much better than the other political alternatives; but there was a time not very long ago, when Southern Asia was in a sweet spot between Dictatorship and Democracy, where conducive factors facilitated the spectre of Left-Wing radicalism, in both India and Pakistan. Between the imprisonment of Pakistan’s democratically elected PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the mysterious plane crash that killed President Zia ul Haq in 1988, a shadowy entity by the name of Al-Zulfiqar had emerged out of the pale, and rocked the Zia dictatorship, with its nuisance value. What were the origins of Al Zulfiqar, and who, was its chief executive officer?

The PIA Hijack drama
The PIA Hijack drama

We must retrace our steps to the early 1970s, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the Pakistan president. His eldest son, and second-born, Mir Murtaza, would build a lavish tent on the sprawling lawns of 70 Clifton, the Bhutto residence at Karachi. Inside the private sanctuary he had made for himself, the young lad would read the influential works of prominent Marxist revolutionaries like Lenin, Mao, and Che Guevara. The walls of his tent would be adorned with posters of world-famous figures, who had adopted Marxist techniques and applied them to their personal agendas. Murtaza had become deeply involved with the guerrilla warfare ethos of Socialist insurgents and quickly became a role model for his younger male sibling, Shahnawaz, junior to him by four years.

 

Sensing that the wayward, and obstinate nature of the older Bhutto was getting him into trouble with his high school officials and law enforcement, Zulfiqar had insisted, that Murtaza abandon his tent, and his Leftist reactionary literature, to concentrate on his school syllabus, so that the straight and the narrow could produce results for the latter. As soon as it became possible, and after consulting his wife Nusrat Bhutto, the President had packed off his enfant terrible to study in the United States, and then to England, where he hoped, that a new environment would change him. It was here, that Murtaza shone. A thorough academic, he researched upon and produced a dissertation, concerning the consequences of India’s nuclear program, on Pakistan. He developed the reputation of being a cad, and somewhat of a lady’s man as well, during his student years in London, where he was a regular sighting at nightclubs, with one or the other pretty girl, on his arm.

 

His father, had made the issue of the ‘Muslim Bomb’ an international one, arguing, that since the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Marxist political spheres had their own, ultimate weapon of mass destruction, it was only fair that the Islamic world follow suit. Israel though not openly belligerent with the bomb, was suspected of being in possession of the technology to construct one, in 1966 itself. Moreover, it had refused to sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). Pakistan, under his leadership, he had sworn, would ‘gift’ the Muslim world with its first nuclear weapon. The president’s (and later, Prime Minister’s) son, would broach the topic on an academic level, and make its knowledge, widespread.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with his third wife Husna Sheikh
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with his third wife Husna Sheikh.

Murtaza was yet abroad, when his father, by the time, the democratically elected Prime Minister of his country, was toppled in mid-1977, in a military coup, headed by General Zia ul Haq, who until the event, had been Zulfiqar’s handpicked Chief of the Pakistan Armed Forces; and a man, that the confident, and arrogant premier, termed his ‘monkey general’. In a letter, handwritten to her brother, Benazir had advised him to travel to the United States, to meet with American leadership, that were friendly with the Pakistan Peoples Party, to plead for assistance in toppling the dictatorship of Zia. Interestingly, she had told him to steer clear of a top Bhutto aide, Ghulam Mustafa Khar. This is testified by Lt. General Khalid Mahmud Arif in his book Working With Zia. Khar, an uncle of PPP ex-Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (2008 – 2013), had been a confidante of Prime Minister Bhutto, who he faithfully plied to the home of Bhutto’s first, secret mistress, and then, legally married third wife, Husna Sheikh, on a daily basis.

 

From the United States, Mir Murtaza had decided that it was not judicious to return to a strife-ridden homeland, which was experiencing its umpteenth military rule. Instead, he had flown to Syria and then Libya, to garner support from Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi respectively. The Assads and Gaddafi were supportive of the Bhuttos. Zia to them, was an American puppet that had been installed as a means to an end, that too, through an undemocratic and unpopular regime change. It was in Syria occupied Lebanon, that Murtaza had begun building up a guerrilla outfit, which he named, the PLA (Pakistan Liberation Army). Members from the PPP back in Pakistan, were herded off to the Middle East, for rigorous guerrilla training, that was imparted by the Leftist PFLP (Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine). When Mir Murtaza deemed that the time was ripe for ambushing Zia’s men in positions of power; the trained militia of PLA flew to Afghanistan, where they continued further arms training, awaiting an opportune moment, to cross into their homeland, using the mountainous, and lawless tribal routes of northern Pakistan, which flanked the Durand Line.

 

While in Kabul, Murtaza Bhutto decided to rename his outfit Al-Zulfiqar Organization, or AZO. Shahnawaz, the younger son of the jailed premier, joined his older brother and was imparted training in guerrilla warfare, and violent Marxist insurrection. When not wielding guns in army fatigues, the young volunteers and the Bhutto brothers, would watch Bollywood flicks to kill time.

 

Initially, all Shahnawaz wished to do, was to open a tourist agency in Pakistan, and live quietly with the Afghan object of his affections. But the restless circumstances that engulfed the young man, forced him to join Al-Zulfiqar, all the more so, as it had his older brother at its helm; a man he had much admired from the days of his youth.

 

One of the first acts of the AZO, was to try to blow up Zia-ul-Haq’s plane with a missile, from an Islamabad rooftop. It did not produce the desired result. Next, was the hijack of a PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) flight. It was flown to Kabul, where the hijackers stated that the plane and its passengers would only be released if ninety-one political prisoners from the PPP, were set free from incarceration in Pakistan. Zia’s response initially, was a “No”. But once it became eminent, that there were no international mediators to take on the case on behalf of Pakistan; especially once Assad and Gaddafi explained the dilemma to General Zia, the latter was forced to rethink his stand. By then, AZO had reduced the demand from ninety-one prisoners, to some fifty-four of them. The Pakistan general was forced to comply with Murtaza’s bargain, as it released the PPP detainees from various gaols in the country, who were then swapped for the PIA plane and its passengers.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with Indira Gandhi and Benazir
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with Indira Gandhi and Benazir.

The mastermind of the hijack, was a seamlessly trained Salamullah Tipu, who was seen waving his gun in the air triumphantly from the door of the airplane, after throwing down the bloodied and dead corpse, of one Major Tariq Rahim on the tarmac. Rahim was a close aide of the Zia administration. While Tipu took the blame upon himself, and the PPP back in Karachi, led by Benazir and her mother Nusrat, denied any knowledge or existence of the AZO, Mir Murtaza Bhutto continued to avoid Pakistani authorities, was never caught on camera during the hijack episode, and was declared a wanted criminal by the Pak judiciary, in absentia.

 

In his biography of the older Bhutto scion, The Terrorist Prince: Life And Death Of Murtaza Bhutto, author, student activist, and political henchman Raja Anwar, notes, that a paranoid Murtaza had ordered for the assassination of anyone who he feared would challenge his methods as head of AZO. A sizeable number of its members were apprehended from their homes, murdered, and dumped in shallow ditches. The same author states, how he himself, Shahnawaz, Mir Murtaza, and some other workers of Al-Zulfiqar, had received lodging, food, money, and military training, in New Delhi. The government of Indira Gan