June 5 is celebrated as World Environment Day to remind people about the importance of nature. The need to remind humans that the environment that nurtures them, helps sustain their existence must be protected reflects upon how the world has forgotten to live in tune with nature. Nevertheless, there is a global community working hard to protect the environment by not only creating awareness among people but calling for political attention towards it. Part of this global community are individuals who have committed their lives to the cause and are taking steps every day to protect the environment.
One such person is Virendra Singh also known as the Green Commando who has been organizing campaigns to sensitize people towards the environment for the last twenty-two years. A resident of Dalli-Rajhara Nagar in Balod District of Chhattisgarh, Virendra is a passionate environmentalist who has set an example through his unique work.
Virendra has been running campaigns for the conservation of trees every year.
He has been celebrating the birthday of trees for the last 18 years. Yes, trees! Not only that, on Raksha Bandhan every year, he ties ‘Rakhi’ on trees and pledges to look after them forever. He treats trees as his friend and takes care of them like his own children. His commitment and love for nature are so strong that he has named his daughter ‘Prakriti’ which means nature in Hindi.
Virendra’s journey to becoming the Green Commando had started when he was still an adolescent. At that age, when all his friends spent time roaming around, he engaged himself to the service of nature. Today, he runs campaigns for environmental protection is not only in the districts of Balod and Kanker but the entire Bastar region. He urges people to protect the environment, plant more trees, and motivates them to consider trees as their own children. By offering free plant saplings to people, he encourages them to be a part of his plantation drive. He has been managing the planted trees without any help from the administration. Virendra, who works in a private company, utilizes a part of his income to sustain his campaigns.
Plantation drive organized by Virendra.
“It was in 1998 that I had planted a Peepul tree for the first time outside my house. That one action developed a deep sense of interest in the environment. For 10 years, I worked as a teacher at a private school where I started creating awareness among students towards the environment and the importance of cleanliness. I created a team of 25 students along with whom I started planted saplings in the nearby area. That time, my heart used to cry seeing people cut trees for fuelwood. I would wonder who is going to compensate for the loss?” shared Virendra while talking about his journey.
Disturbed by these questions, Virendra built a garden near his house in 2004 and planted 250 saplings. Today, those saplings have grown into huge trees – and he celebrates the birthday of these trees every year. In July, the trees will complete 18 years.
Virendra’s love for the environment is not restricted to only plants and trees. He has been campaigning to save water – the elixir of life. Besides planting around 20000 trees to date, he has cleaned more than 30 wells. He has also organized several ‘save the environment’ bicycle rallies – in 2007, he had traveled from Durg to Nepal while in 2008, he completed a journey from Raipur to Kanyakumari and then from Kanyakumari to Wagah Border in 4 months.
To involve more and more people in his initiative, he came up with the idea of forming a human chain in which 15000 school children participated to create a 7 kilometers long chain from his village Dalli-Rajhara Kusumkasa. This Green Commando keeps inventing new strategies for his campaigns. At times, he would paint his entire body while on some occasions, he would raise slogans to reach out to local communities.
For his work on environmental protection, Virendra Singh has received encouragement not only from the public but also from the government. He has been honored with the prestigious ‘Jal Star’ awarded by Chhattisgarh Government in 2011 and ‘Water Hero 2020’ awarded last year by the Union Government. Besides, he has been honored at the district level by the Collector on Republic and Independence Day.
His family is his real cheerleader. His wife, Savita Singh supports each of his campaigns. Seeing their father’s commitment to the environment, his 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, have started participating in environment protection campaigns. Not just environmental issues, Virender also spreads awareness and is vocal about social issues such as the prohibition of tobacco, AIDS awareness, and voting rights.
Another beautiful example of his dedication to nature is that during the monsoon, Virendra carries saplings whenever he steps out and plants these saplings wherever he sees an empty plot. This, he believes, is his gift to the coming generations!
This article has been written by rural writer Suryakant Dewangan from Chhattisgarh for Charkha Features.