Why you should care
Because Bihar, India, is only 9 percent green, and local teenagers are doing something about it.
On a hot day in April, environment worker Devopriya Dutta received a call from a school principal in Khagaul in Patna, Bihar: A tree near the school, believed to be almost 100 years old, had been cut down by the forest department to widen the road. Dutta immediately made some calls, rallying some 15-20 students. Angry, they made posters and placards. The next day, the students went to the site to protest the death of their beloved tree.
This isn’t a one-off incident. Students in Bihar, India’s eastern state with a population of about 104 million, have regularly been fighting for the trees in their state, which has only about 9 percent green cover — among the least in India. Back in November 2000, the state of Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar; the remaining area had minimal foliage and trees.
Tarumitra (which means “friends of trees” in Hindi and Sanskrit) is a Patna-based nonprofit that has been working with students and the community to bring more green to Bihar. “Students here are ecologically sensitive,” explains Dutta, who is a project coordinator here. “We try and inculcate that in them.” And one of the ways that teens are making their surroundings greener is by seed-bombing the treeless areas.
In the past year alone, more than 20,000 seed bombs have been dropped in Bihar.
The technique involves placing seeds inside a ball of wet soil that is left to dry. Nagesh Anand, a volunteer, likens the concept to Bihar’s traditional dish, litti chokha, which is a ball of whole wheat that’s stuffed with black gram flour and spices. The balls are then thrown at places where there is very little to no tree cover: riverbanks, landfills, garbage disposal spots — pretty much wherever there aren’t enough trees, Dutta explains. “Even if one seed germinates, we consider it a win.” In the past year alone, more than 20,000 seed bombs have been dropped in Bihar.
So far, Bihar teens have bombed areas along the Patna-Buxar, Patna, Gaya and Patna-Deoghar railway tracks. Typically the seeds are from banyan, coral and myrobalan trees, which are native to the region. Students also volunteer on seed-collecting sprees before spending hours making “bombs that don’t destroy life but give life,” Dutta says. The bombing events typically happen on a monthly basis and whenever a group of students visits the facility (recently 40 students from a government-sponsored school in Nepal came here to study conservation).
Tarumitra, which is the only organization of its kind in Bihar, was founded in 1988 by Jesuit priest Robert Athickal. Over the years, it has fueled a nationwide student movement in ecological and environmental conservation. But Tarumitra is not just about planting trees. Students also learn sustainability concepts, such as cooling a building’s outside walls with layers of soil and making household objects out of discarded plastics. The Patna building itself — which is named Uttarayan and was designed by eco-archaeologist Laurie Baker — sports solar panels and maintains an inside temperature that’s 6-9 degrees lower than the outside. Produce is also grown in the terrace, and visitors can check out the treehouses and the two cats, Appu and Lucy, who live on the premises. There are monthly workshops about ecology, eco-spirituality and hugging meditations where “students hug the trees and are mindful of what the tree has given them,” Anand explains. “You focus on healing, connection with nature … and envision how it is sustaining you.”
Currently, Tarumitra oversees the management of 10 acres of land, a bioreserve that is home to more than 1,000 trees of 450 different varieties. Next, the facility is looking to expand — in physical space (18 acres) and in what it can teach. The organization is currently in talks with a nearby school, St. Xavier’s College in Patna. If the government grants the land transfer, Tarumitra is looking to run courses on organic farming for St. Xavier’s students and the community in return.
While the greening of Bihar might seem like a win for everyone in the community, not everyone is on board. There has been resistance to the student protests, which some see as a nuisance that serves only to hamper traffic.
But these tensions don’t sway people like Praneeta Rani, who calls herself a “green terrorist” and always carries seed bombs. The college student attended a camp at Tarumitra in high school, and now she volunteers here. “These days people don’t have time to plant trees,” Rani explains. Whenever she finds a place without trees, “I just throw the seed bombs there. It is that easy.”