Breather from Morbi’s noxious fumes

By Times Of India on 26 Mar 2018
MORBI: Driving on Rajkot-Morbi highway isn’t a smooth ride any day. Besides the bumpy road, air filled with dust particles can choke you while approaching Morbi, which is famous for its ceramic industry but equally infamous for pollution. But just 12km after crossing the ‘ceramic town’, there is a sudden whiff of fresh air and eye-soothing view of a massive green patch studded with lakhs of trees.
The area is actually a gaushala (cowshed) land sprawling nearly 110 hectares with nearly 1.22 lakh trees of all varieties in Makansar village. It is no exaggeration to call it a forest that is helping counter the noxious fumes of generated by the ceramic industry surrounding it.

The man behind transforming this huge stretch of wasteland into a massive green cover is former range forest officer S P Gogra. At the time of Independence, Thakur Saheb of Morbi state Lakhdhirji had donated 700 HA land to the gaushala. However, it was not in use until the forest department signed an MoU with UK’s oil major Cairn Energy India under the latter’s corporate social responsibility.

“Cairn India agreed to release Rs 14 crore in five years for development of this land. The gaushala administrators handed over this land to the forest department to do forestation for five years under the agreement,” Gogra told TOI.

But forestation on this land wasn’t an easy task. Locals say that the clay from the land was illegally taken by some industrialists engaged in brick business. Before plantation, nearly 2,200 tractors of soil was spread on this land to make it fertile. As it was a wasteland, there were red stones which don’t allow trees to grow. Two ponds, spread on 10 acres each, were created and five borewells were dug to water the trees.

“We sprinkle water on trees and use drip irrigation system too. We don’t use any chemical-based fertilizer and use only natural manure,” said Gogra.

This land was handed over to the forest department in January 2015 and plantation started in July 2015. Gogra was in-charge of this project and has resolved to give his service till the term ends in 2020.

Velji Patel, former president of Morbi Ceramics Association and trustee of the gaushala, said, “State government wanted to use this fund in a project in Rajkot but we insisted that the money should be used to increase green cover in Morbi district. We think it is high time that steps are taken to curb pollution now.”

In order to save electricity, solar lights have been installed in the entire 110 hectares. The two ponds are useful to recharge borewells as well as conserving rain water.

Forester Anil Patel, who takes care of the project, said, “First, we dig a pit, then plant a sapling and then fill it with soil. We use natural fertilizer which helps speed up growth of plants. There are nearly 60 labourers working in this project and currently they are even using the fruits that grow on the trees.

Locals in Makansar said that the forest has become a sort of tourist attraction. “Temperatures in the surrounding area remains low even in summers because of such large number of trees. Moreover, the ill-effects of carbon emitted by the surrounding ceramic industry is also mitigated,” said a villager.