Nitesh R Pradhan
In a groundbreaking move to strengthen the deep-rooted connection between nature and local communities, the Indian state of Sikkim has introduced an innovative initiative called "Mero Rukh Mero Santati" (My Tree My Child). Under this government-monitored program, 100 trees will be planted for every newborn baby in Sikkim, making it one of the pioneering efforts in the Eastern Himalayas.
The main objective of this initiative is to reinforce the age-old bond between society and nature, creating an ecosystem where both trees and children can thrive, promising vitality, health, and happiness. "Mero Rukh Mero Santati" aims to facilitate seamless services for new parents, from enrollment to planting and post-care, with various departments of the state government coming together to support the program.
Pradeep Kumar, Secretary of the State Forest Department, emphasized the collaborative nature of the initiative, stating that ASHA workers, Aaganwadi workers, gram panchayats, urban local bodies, and department staff will assist in onboarding the parents. Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang (Golay), the brain behind this idea, has urged parents to voluntarily participate in this program.
“Mero Rukh Mero Santati “(MRMs) initiative of the government alone on a long-term average will sequester about 2.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per annum for every new-born which will comfortably offset the estimated per capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emission in India (which is to the tune of 1.9 metric tons). “MRMs is one such program that aims at creating an environmental legacy by embedding tree planting, with one of the important milestones of life i.e., childbirth. Tree planting under MRMs will be carried out during plantation season identified as Santati Saptah (1st week of July) every year,” said the Sikkim Chief Minister.
Its a voluntary program and to register for the scheme, parents simply need to send a "hi" or "hello" message to a designated WhatsApp number, after which they will receive a link to be filled out. After successful registration, parents will receive a congratulatory message via mobile or email from the Chief Minister. During the enrollment process, parents will provide information regarding their preferences for species, number of plants, and location. Based on this information, the Forest Department will contact the parents during the favorable plantation season or the "Santati Saptah" in July.
The program allows for the planting of trees on private land, community land, or nearby forests, providing flexibility to parents. As of May 25th, 2400 couples have already confirmed their participation in the "Mero Rukh Mero Santati" program, with the highest enrollment in Namchi district (724), followed by Gangtok district (524), Pakyong district (482), Soreng district (309), and Mangan (127).
To ensure that the program reaches the grassroots level, the Forest Department will collaborate with the State Health Department, cross-referencing the data with birth registration certificates. This proactive approach aims to instill a sense of ownership and belongingness to the local communities, shifting the perception of forests from being solely government property to a shared responsibility.
Parents who have participated in the program, such as Sushmita Chettri, express their desire for their children to grow alongside nature, upholding the tradition of worshipping trees and raising awareness among young minds about the modern challenges of climate change and global warming.
Environmentalists, including Kamal Kumar Tanti, Director of the Centre for Environment and Climate Action Foundation, commend the Government of Sikkim for this initiative. Recognizing the threats posed by climate change and climate disasters, Tanti believes that the program will motivate people to conserve nature, particularly inspiring the younger generation, grassroots workers, and conservationists. He also suggests providing training to individuals to ensure the successful maintenance of tree saplings before implementing the program on a larger scale.
With an acknowledgment to mitigate the global climate crisis, this program has the potential to change the paradigm of environment conservation in Eastern Himalayas which can foster a renewed bond with nature.
Nitesh R Pradhan is a journalist based in Sikkim, India. He is currently correspondent of RT India and Editor of The Voice of Sikkim