Grow-Trees.com becomes the first private organization in India to plant thousands of trees in Katra near the Vaishno Devi shrine
Mumbai: This Grow-Trees.com initiative is a welcome, preemptive step to counter the impact of climate change and unsustainable tourism
According to news reports, the J&K Forest Department recently conducted a one day, pre-fire season drill to preempt perhaps the kind of blaze that engulfed the Katra forests near the Vaishno Devi shrine in May last year. These fires have the potential to cause not just a massive loss of green cover but can also diminish the wealth of native fauna and flora. At a time when climate change and unsustainable tourism are visibly damaging the environment, Grow-Trees.com has become the first private organisation in India to initiate an afforestation drive in the eco-sensitive Katra region, to combat the loss of forest wealth.
Supriya Patil, environmental expert and COO of Grow-Trees.com, says, “We celebrate International Forest Day (March 21) every year but a Global Forest Watch report released by the environmental news portal, Mongabay states that forest fires caused an additional 3 million hectares of tree loss in 2022 as compared to 2021. Katra’s forests are already becoming increasingly prone to this devastation and this is why we initiated the ‘Trees for Shri Mata Vaishno Devi’ project and began a drive to plant over 10,000 trees.” The goal, she adds, is to increase the tree cover, repair the damage done by unsustainable tourism practices and ensure that the biodiversity in the region continues to thrive.
Forestry expert Deeraj Thapa, who conceptualised this plantation initiative says,” Through this drive, we also wanted to add value to the pilgrimage site and create awareness amongst devotees about environment conservation.”
He cites a 2023 news report, according to which over 91 lakh pilgrims visited the Vaishno Devi shrine in 2022 and the tourist inflow has resulted in the sprouting of countless commercial establishments, increased waste generation and excessive carbon emissions. “Vehicular traffic emits toxic gasses like nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. The trees will help counter the pollution by sequestering carbon and will also remind the visitors that when tourism becomes unsustainable, the environment literally cracks under pressure. We need to have strict regulations in eco-sensitive places like Katra to control dumping, toxic emissions and unauthorised commercial structures,” says Deeraj. Thriving forests, he reminds, also help in conserving the wildlife species of the region, provide green sustenance to local communities and improve the health of the rivers.
In this ambitious project, Grow-Trees.com has been supported ably by various knowledge partners including the Katra Development Authority, Katra Municipal Committee and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University (SMVDU) and has received accolades from Dr Mohit Gera, The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and the Head of Forest Forces (HoFF) at the Nature Office at Jammu.
Supriya adds, “We were also thrilled when renowned environmental lawyer, Nadeem Qadri, who serves at the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh appreciated our efforts to preserve the spiritual and ecological roots of Katra.” The funding for the plantation of more than 8000 trees has already been disbursed during phase 1 of the project, and phase 2 of an additional 10,000 trees will shortly be open for contribution. Concludes Supriya, “Anyone who wants to help us protect Katra’s ecology, can contribute a tree with a simple click and together, we will be able to revive Katra’s glory, one flourishing tree at a time.”