Decades ago, Yamare was known for trees “as big as a village”. The canopies of banyan trees spread like an umbrella across the lanes, providing for community gatherings and mid-day breaks. Rows of whistling pine and eucalyptus trees lined the edge of the lakes, creating mist on hot summer days.
As the city gradually expanded toward Sarjapura, the road claimed the land that was once home to trees that were as old as 500 years. A Yamare native shares his story of transformation from a tree-cutter to a tree activist.
“It is my dream to plant over 1 lakh saplings in my lifetime.”
Our adventure began with Devraj, a 50-year-old Yamare resident, at the edge of a road near Dommasandra. It was a scorching summer day but Devraj’s enthusiasm about the trees he had planted over the last four years inspired us to follow him through Sarjapura and Sompura. Our first stop was Devraj’s house in Yamare, where we were greeted by the welcoming smile of his wife Radhamma.
Leading us through his lush 60×40 plot, Devraj showed us the nearly 1,000 saplings of different plants that he and his wife had planted over the last couple of years. Under the shade of the mango tree, he shared his story with us.
Son of a carpenter, Devraj’s career started off in the footsteps of his father. After 10 years in carpentry, he learned of an opportunity where he could earn a lot more money — up to 5,000 rupees per ton — as a professional tree-cutter. He became the go-to person for the removal of trees for the forestry department and private landowners across the region.
In his village, Devraj became synonymous with tree-cutting. He proudly stated that he could cut down even the tallest of trees in under 10 minutes. In his 30-year-journey in the profession, Devraj has felled over one lakh trees.
Everybody in his village knew that Devraj meant tree-cutting
One day, he received an unusual phone call from the forestry department saying that an organisation called the Voice of Sarjapura (VoS) wanted to transplant four of the hundreds of trees Devraj was meant to fell on the main Sarjapur Road. These four trees were part of a tender worth INR 12 lakh he had acquired from the forestry department and the transplant would cost him a lakh.
Unable to refuse an official order, Devraj axed hundred-plus trees for the forestry department and then, at their request, helped VoS transplant the four trees to a new location. He could not fathom why anyone would spend money and time on saving a few trees. Days later, after the transplant work, Devraj stood with the VoS members as they wept — tears shed for saving a few trees while losing many others. It was then that Devraj realised the true value of a tree. It led him to experience an emotion he had not felt before. That was also the last time he axed a healthy tree.
To Devraj, tree-cutting was an “addiction”. According to Radhamma, a new addiction replaced the earlier one — planting saplings. Devraj grows these saplings in his own nursery and either gives them away for free or plants them in different locations. Whenever people offer to pay for these saplings, he refuses the money and, instead, requests them to water them consistently. That is all the payment he wishes to receive. “He is very engrossed in planting now. He forgets his family when he is around plants,” Radhamma said.
Giving up a lucrative profession and surviving in an increasingly expensive world is difficult. Devraj, however, is unperturbed about the loss of income. “At some point, you need to listen to your heart, you need to take the right decision, no matter how bad the situation might get. At least you sleep better at night.”
Along with VoS members, Devraj has planted over 3,000 saplings in the last four years, and he does not plan to stop anytime soon. Today, when people call him for felling, he obliges them only if the trees have internal decay or are dead. Most of the time, however, the trees are healthy and he brainstorms with the owner to come up with alternative solutions to the tree problem. His dream is to plant over 1 lakh saplings.
“At some point, you need to listen to your heart, you need to take the right decision however bad the situation is going to get. At least you get better sleep.”
What started off as a confusing and new emotional experience for him has turned Devraj into a conscious and committed nature activist, because otherwise, as he says, “What will our children have?”
About the authors
Dechamma C S is a member of the Community Engagement Initiative, Azim Premji University.
Puja Navin Solanki is a student of MA Development at Azim Premji University.
Amanda Gann is a Fulbright Scholar with the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability, Azim Premji University.