Building a green roof

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pandit Punyadhar Jha, now over 80 years of age, believes in the proverbial saying "one tree is equal to 10 sons". In keeping with this belief he has planted over 10,000 trees in 66 years.

Popularly known as Bol Bam, Jha lives in the Andhra Tharhi village in Madhubani district of Bihar, but his work is not just confined to Madhubani. It includes other districts like Darbhanga, Begusarai and Sitamarhi, and also Sakreshwari in Nepal.

When he started planting trees,he knocked at the doors of many government offices, but to no avail. "Then I decided not to take any help from the government or other organisations and instead do everything on my own," says Jha, who converses in Sanskrit most of the time and is also proficient in Hindi, Urdu and English. According to Ratan Kumar Ravi, a local journalist, Jha has spent his own money for tree plantation.

When Jha started his tree plantation drive, the villagers were unaware of the importance of trees and environment. But Jha had read about how trees helped to make rain, prevent soil erosion and keep the air clean. Then one day he saw a grain trader in his village doing business under the scorching sun and his mind was made up.

Using traditional methods, Jha planted trees alongside roads, on office compounds and public places. Explaining his source of knowledge, Jha says: "In the Agnipuranas , it is said that sesame seeds should be sown at the site where a tree is to be planted. After the seeds have germinated, the land should be ploughed properly and then the tree should be planted there. This increases chances of the tree surviving."

Age hasn't caught up with Jha. He now plans to motivate the villagers to clean a big pond which, he believes, is centuries-old. Jha feels the pond, which is covered with weeds, might serve as a structure for rainwater harvesting. "Even the weeds can be used as a source of biofertiliser," he says. But no one has come forward to help him.

"Bol Bam should be given the President's Award for his outstanding and selfless contribution," says Jaideve Yadav, secretary of the Rashtriya Janata Dal unit in Madhubani. But, whether he receives recognition or not, Jha has no plans to retire from planting trees.