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Root Cause

Mail a distant village a tree

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PLANTING PASSION: Eco enthusiasts queue up at a recent planting drive organised by thesaplingproject. com in Mumbai

The next time you send out an email, you can attach a tree. A growing number of websites have a new, noble programme - getting people to plant saplings. The net has just turned a shade greener.

If you are a nature lover who despairs at the sight of the bare cityscape, there is cyber-help at hand. There are now a host of websites that offer tree planting services, facilitate electronic collection of money for the cause and also ensure that the money is channeled in the right direction. Some allow you to gift a sapling to a friend, while others help forest communities save trees through greening drives.

"I gifted my friend a tree on her birthday instead of the usual flowers and chocolates, " says 54-year-old Mumbaikar Surbhi Tanna. "I thought it was a better way of saying that I care for her as well as the environment. And it was easy to do it online. "
Eco portals not only arrange for saplings, but also offer advice on the species best suited for the purpose. Some even offer to plant saplings in rural pockets.

Set up two months ago, www. grow-trees. com helps environmentally-conscious individuals and companies grow trees on community and public lands at the price of a greeting card. Among its clients is a corporate hospital that honours its doctors by planting trees. Kotak Credit Cards, another client, is encouraging customers to shift from paper statements to e-statements. "For every customer who makes the switch, the firm will plant a tree through us, " says founder Pradip Shah, whose company is an official partner of the United Nations Environment Program's Billion Tree Campaign.

Some of these green e-projects are purely voluntary in nature. For instance, thesaplingproject. com, founded by techies Satish Vijaykumar and Ranjeet Walunj, is a venture that started with the free distribution of 200 saplings in Mumbai. The duo wanted to do something about the growing concretisation of the megapolis. Today, the small step has turned into a countrywide movement with over 1, 500 participants and volunteers from Mumbai, Pune, Latur, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai.

"The net is the best option for a movement such as this: it is free and allows us to interact with a large audience in the shortest possible time, " says Vijaykumar. Fellow bloggers and Twitter friends have helped the two spread the word and the Facebook group 'the sapling project' too drives traffic to their website.

Haryana-based web entrepreneur Amit Aggarwal had an innovative idea. He set up mytreemyday. org to send out constant reminders to people to plant saplings. "A friend who is passionate about tree planting used to call me every day for updates on the sapling he had gifted me. But since I wasn't able to spot a location near home and was too lazy to identify another, I never had much to tell him, " he says. Eventually, Aggarwal did find a spot for the sapling and inspired by his own experience set up a portal where people can pledge to plant a sapling and receive free email reminders to ensure they do.

Vijaykumar and Walunj of thesaplingproject. com go a step further by giving out free saplings. "From the money we put in and from funds collected from our friends we buy saplings and distribute them free to anyone who signs up on the website or turns up at our planting event, " says Walunj. Those appointed area project organisers order saplings, coordinate with teams of volunteers and plan distribution drives. But funds remain a major challenge. "We've been lucky so far, but funds are critical if we are to cover more areas and buy more saplings, " says Vijaykumar.

While planting a sapling takes some effort, the bigger challenge is to nurture it. This is where www. grow-trees. com has come up with a new idea. "We charge Rs 50 per tree. But we ensure that those trees are planted and nurtured by having tie-ups with field-level NGOs in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Orissa, " says Paresh Murudkar, the company's business development manager.

Jagdeesh Rao, the executive director of Foundation for Ecological Security, which works with villages outside wildlife sanctuaries and is a planting partner with grow-trees. com, says movements like these allow city dwellers greater involvement in the environment problems of distant India.

"It's not just about helping tigers and elephants. This way, you feel that you are actually a part of the movement to conserve the green cover, offset the carbon footprint and help local custodians in the process," says Rao.

Tanna is already planning a green Diwali celebration. "It would be much better than sending all those boxes of sweets and cards, " she says.

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