Vijaypal Baghel wears his passion on his sleeve. And his shirt. And his pants. And his shoes. And his pen. That's how dedicated he is.
Is it a surprise, then, that this Ghaziabad resident is called Greenman?
He is a prominent campaigner of the Jhola Movement, a pan-India movement against the use of polythene, and the first to plant the Kalpa Vriksha, which is largely conisdered to be a wish-fulfilling divine tree in Hindu mythology.
What ignited this passion in you to protect nature?
When I was 5, my grandfather took me to a relative's place. On the way I saw a group of woodcutters hacking away at a tree. The tree was oozing a water-like liquid where it was being hit. I remember thinking the tree was crying. I asked my grandfather whether trees cried, but he couldn't answer my question. I was too young to stop the woodcutters, so I forced my grandfather to chase the men away. It was a small success, but this has laid the foundation of who I am today. It was right then that I decided I had to save trees. I have been trying to learn about the envionment ever since, and spreading the word as far as I can.
Are you an environmental scientist?
No, I am a human and civil rights lawyer by profession. I gave up practice in 1993 and devoted my life to the conservation of nature.
What are your aims?
I have several aims and objectives. One of them is to completely eradicate the use of polythene and plastic, and make India a polythene-free country. It is the main cause of environmental pollution around the world. It is a non-biodegradable product and lingers on in the ecosystem. But that's not where my aims end. I am against all activity that is harmful to Mother Nature. At my age, there is so much to do and so little time. That's why I try and make every little step count.
Who gave you the moniker Greenman?
I was conferred the title of "Greenman Baghel" by Al Gore Jr, the politician and environmentalist who served as the 45th vice-president of the United States. I am also the green ambassador for the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh government. My organisation Paryavaran Sachetak Samiti is associated with eco-friendly ventures across India.
What exactly does Greenman do?
My role is to ensure participation. Every new person I am able to reach out to or inspire can bring about a positive change in the way society perceives nature. I want more and more people to be aware of the problems of neglecting nature and what we can do to make things better. My organisation has participated in green drives such as "Operation Green", an initiative to plant trees native to India, and renovation of the Surajpur wetlands. We have also worked with the GDA to develop the City Forest, and with Noida Authority to figure out a process for the disposal of bio-medical waste.
Have you received help along the way?
We don't generally ask for help but we have always received support from the government and several NGOs. Our NGO is an voluntary organisation and survives on voluntary participation. We have more than 64,000 volunteers from India and around the world.
What do you think is the greatest threat to Earth today?
Humans. We have become greedier than ever. We have become selfish. We spare absolutely no thought for the planet we are leaving behind for the future generations. The Earth can only take so much abuse, and the damage we are inflicting is irreversible.
What do you think is the solution?
We need to understand the problem, and each one of us needs to do his or her bit. Environmental issues did not crop up overnight. It is only through small, gradual changes in our habits that we can make a difference. We need to look for ways to minimise our carbon footprint. Nothing is going to change until the seeds of change are sown in our minds, especially our children.
Do you think technological advancements can minimise the impact on nature?
Technology cannot bring back an extinct species, can it? It can only ensure preventive action. We cannot produce the fundamentals of nature, such as water, air, wind and earth. The answer, in my own interpretation, is hariyali — a combination of hari (greenery) and ali (culture).
What would you like to tell our readers?
Every living being acts to maintain a balance in nature. It is our job, too, to try and restore that balance. Plant as many trees as you can, as without them, there is no future on the planet.