Published: 24th April 2019
Tree Man of India seeks funds to get back medal and vehicle awarded by APJ Abdul Kalam
Gopal Mullaivanam has planted over one crore saplings for the state and was honoured by former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam for his meritorious achievements
The summer is upon us, and we all know what that means. Searing temperatures, soaring humidity and scorching heat bellow over the land, posing serious health hazards. It is at times like these that we truly appreciate the shade offered by trees, and if you find yourself seeking refuge beneath one, there is a good chance it might have been planted by the Chennai Tree Bank. The brainchild of Gopal Mullaivanam, the Chennai Tree Bank’s primary aim is to plant saplings that could enrich the environment. Till date, Mullaivanam and his volunteers have given root to over 1.47 crore saplings across Tamil Nadu, most of them in colleges, schools and fields. Although he couldn’t complete his schooling, the ‘Tree Man of India’, as he’s popularly called, gave wings to his childhood dream of planting as many trees as he could for the society. His grandfather used to take him along for fieldwork and his passion for trees stems from there. “I used to collect the branches and leaves from trees that were trimmed, and used it to make a natural fence around our fields,” says Mullaivanam. His affection for nature led him to establish Chennai Tree Bank in 2008, which was subsequently registered as an NGO. “There are blood banks, eye banks, and other banks that aid the needy. So why not a treebank that can protect the environment? Trees give us oxygen to breathe for free, we should repay this by planting more trees,” he says.
In 2010, Mullaivanam was honoured by the late President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam who gifted him a Tata Ace van to help him with logistical issues concerning the transportation of trees to required regions, as well as a 15g gold medal. “The main goal of the foundation is to plant one tree per citizen. I never charge for my services or my saplings – only the transportation costs have to be met by the customer,” he says. This noble and selfless act has, unfortunately, landed him in quite a pickle. Unable to raise sufficient funds to meet his personal expenditure, Mullaivanam had to mortgage both, the Tata Ace gifted to him by the late President and the gold medal. Furthermore, the humble hut he lives in was razed to the ground by Cyclone Vardah, leaving him with mounting debts. He has taken loans to repair what he can and borrows electricity from his neighbours. “I want to continue planting trees, not just in Tamil Nadu but across India. But the government refuses to grant written permission for planting trees along public roads. Many large trees are being cut down to make way for roads, but the government doesn’t give its consent for me to plant replacements,” laments Mullaivanam.
ImpactGuru.com, a donation based crowd-funding platform that offers global funding solutions for NGOs and individuals, stepped in to lend a helping hand. By taking his situation online, they have raised INR 1.24 lakhs so far, out of the target of INR 3 lakhs. Asked about how he intends to spend the donated funds, he says that the money given by contributors would be utilised for two purposes – to get back the vehicle gifted by Dr Abdul Kalam, which is also his pride and joy, and the gold medal, and also to plant more trees. Regarding the latter, Mullaivanam doesn’t blindly hand out his precious saplings to everyone and anyone who asks for them. “When I receive a request, be it from a school, college or other establishments, I always visit the site personally along with a team of four to five volunteers. We determine the feasibility of planting trees there and ask about the commitment levels of our host. Only if they promise us that they will take proper care of the trees, do we dispatch the required quantity of saplings. Everything is free of charge – the saplings, my services, and my team’s work. Only the transportation costs need to be borne by the hosts,” says Mullaivanam. “We should plant one tree a day, and everyone should plant at least one tree during their life. Youngsters should engage in selfless acts that help the society, and you should never commercialise such deeds.”
In the end, despite his generous soul and the undivided support of his family, the Tree Man of India ultimately finds himself at the mercy of his fellow citizens. His meagre personal savings aren’t quite enough to make ends meet, but he has decided to dedicate his life to nature’s cause.
He appeals to those who can support him and his cause to make voluntary donations at https://www.impactguru.com/fundraiser/help-gopal-mullaivanam.