Sometime during the spring season in 2016, a group of people were on a morning walk near the Kothrud Hills in Pune. It was a usual summer day and the sight from atop the hills, as always, was breathtaking. As some members of the group craned their necks to look far and beyond from their perch, they could see the greenery popping up in a sea or houses all around.

As residents of Pune for several years, they had noted that more houses had meant the green cover of the city had been depleting. With the march of urbanisation, there was little that citizens had done. They were eager to do something that could have a lasting impact on their environment.

The import of the issue was not lost among them as they spoke their mind to each other. The small group discussed amongst themselves and that seeded the idea of planting trees around the hills.

“It was a small step but we decided to begin with that so that we could make ourselves relevant to the society around us, beyond the place of work,” recalls Sachindra Nemade, who works at the Pune factory of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB).

Sanjay Indulkar, Sagar Dhamale, Milind Patil, Yogesh Bhavsar and Prashant Rane, along with their other fellow morning walkers are all employees of the HCCB factory at Pune. When they first conceived the idea of planting trees, the entire team had been busy scripting glory for the plant. They were looking for other ways of being of service to the local community.

Because of the open area and fresh air around Kothrud Hills, it is a popular location for morning walkers. Several families can be seen every morning, spending some quality time together. For those who may not have visited to Pune, a number of technology companies and educational institutions have turned Kothrud and the surrounding areas into one of the hubs for youth in Pune.

Roots of a bright future

The idea of planting trees all around on the hill was the easiest thing to do. The execution was hardly that easy. It meant that their daily work schedule would have to planned keeping in mind that saplings had to be sourced, they had to be watered every day, the budding trees had to be taken care of and, as they grew, the trees had to be kept safe from animals. The commitment from each team member had to be nothing short of 100 per cent.

As a first step, they got down to cleaning up the place. Metal, bottles, pouches, sachets, worn clothes, and other bio non bio-degradable products were cleaned and soon the place wore a changed look. In the initial days, it took some time for the effort to show. But the team was in no hurry because they wanted the people to feel the change.

“We wanted to clean mother Earth before turning it green. A clean place also helps the workspace and helps to improve productivity,” says Prashant Rane, who first started this work and mobilized all others to join in.

There were two big problems – (a) finding a regular source of water for the saplings that were being planted (b) a steady supply of seeds and saplings for such a large chunk of barren land. To beat the first problem, every day, some volunteers would carry a bottle of water each along with a sapling, so that the process could begin. When they were seen watering the plants by other morning walkers and their families, it evoked more curious onlookers. The few who asked the team what they were doing soon decided to lend their hand for the good cause.

To overcome the second challenge, members of the group had conceived the idea of a seed bank. After eating guava, jamun (Java plum), mango, peach, jackfruit and some berries in their respective homes, they would clean the seeds and keep them. They then started collecting these seeds in a ‘seed bank.’ It was perhaps the first time that Coca-Cola ended up owning a bank via its employees! It was a zero cost and zero effort idea, and all the seeds were being preserved for use when needed. The seeds were later used for sowing when the group members went for their morning walks or treks. “We wanted to avoid seeds going to waste, hence we recycled them. Banks need not to be only for money- seeds carry the future within them. And nature gives more returns on investment than any bank,” says Yogesh Bhavsar

Unexpected support

As the group went ahead with their missionary zeal, over several weeks they planted nearly 250 trees, all of which were carefully chosen. As a group, over 10,000 seeds that they had collected in the seed bank came in handy. The preparatory work with the seeds was occasionally done at their homes. After consuming the fruits, the seeds were kept safely, washed and then dried for a few days to get them ready to be planted. They used the plastic milk bags to sow the seeds and closely monitor the early days of the plant. Once the plant was ready to grow its roots into the ground, they were planted at Kothrud Hill, while the families were on their treks.

When the planters were noticed by the passersby and others who would come for their morning walk, suddenly people began volunteering to help.

Making sure that the plants overcame any natural hazards to grow tall was another challenge. Herbivores from nearby areas decided to chew away some of the plants that had healthy leaves sprouting on them. The group came up with a solution to prevent that – the baby trees were covered with thorns of babool (gum Arabic) trees. Other trees were covered with green cloth so that they could survive the harsh summer as well as the animals around.

Two years of sustained effort has now started reaping fruit. Kothrud Hill has started to show some green colour. Birds have started visiting the hill once again and find a place to perch too. The teachers and children of a nearby school, the City International School, Kothrud, led by Ms. Vineeta Sawadikar, Coordinator- Primary School, also joined in, adding more hands to nurture the plants. Kids of families who come for a walk as well as those in the nearby schools have seen how sustained effort can help turn the tide for a better environment around us.

A small group of citizens, several of who have a day job at Coca-Cola’s Pune plant, have inspired others to bring about a change. This is a beginning that is sure to spread cheer as more people join the movement.