Actor terms Maha’s plantation drive ‘eyewash’, minister hits back

MUMBAI, Aug 18: Veteran actor and environment enthusiast Sayaji Shinde on Sunday criticised the Maharashtra government, calling its drive of planting 33 crore saplings across the state as merely an “eyewash”.

He said despite the large-scale plantation drive and spending crores of rupees on the exercise, the government was not taking enough steps to ensure survival of the saplings planted earlier.

However, state Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar hit back saying Shinde must have made the remarks out of “ignorance” as he may not have exact information about the drive.

Mungantiwar also said that such a noble cause aimed at increasing the state’s green cover should not be demeaned and people involved in it should not be demoralised.

Shinde said, “I have serious doubts about the actual results of this drive going on every year, even as the number of saplings (being planted) has been swelling. I had warned Mungantiwar in the very first year that his ambitious project should not end up with plantation of new saplings in the same ditch every year.”

Shinde himself had been an active participant in the government’s saplings plantation drive since the beginning of the project launched under the leadership Mungantiwar.

“There might have been large-scale plantation, but the survival rate (of saplings) must have been minimal…The drive is an eyewash,” he added.

Shinde, who began his career as a Marathi actor and went on to act in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada films as well, hails from Man tehsil in Satara district of Maharashtra. He has been planting saplings on government-recognised areas.

“I have even appointed people and paid wages to them to take care of the saplings. I am not sure the state government has taken so much effort. Hence, I have serious doubts about the survival rate of the planted saplings,” he said.

“There should be a proper audit of this project as the government is spending crores on it without any substantial outcome. The government employees undertake plantation as a duty and not as a mission. I found that none of them were ever interested in protecting and growing the plants. They simply planted it because the government ordered them to do so,” said the actor.

The saplings supplied by the Social Forestry Department are also not in a good condition, he alleged.

“Most of the saplings are just three to six months old. They should be at least nine months old, which will increase the chances of their survival in the new environment once they are planted,” Shinde said.

However, Mungantiwar said that Shinde may not have exact information about the drive and hence making comments “out of ignorance”.

“Thousands of organisations have been associated with this mission to plant 33 crore saplings. A good cause is being maligned…The forest department alone is not planting so many trees, but other departments have joined the exercise as well,” he said.

“Nurseries have over 156 varieties of saplings and they are being planted as per the regional diversity. A detailed list is with me containing information, such as 28,000 gram panchayats and the saplings they have planted,” the minister said.

“Maharashtra’s drive has been acknowledged by Union Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, who planned to plant 125 crore saplings across upcoming national highways,” he claimed.

“NITI Aayog deputy chairman had sent its environment secretary to visit the plantation drive’s command room in Nagpur. Ambassadors of 43 countries had visited the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai to understand our project and they have lauded it as well,” he added.

“Such a noble cause should not be demeaned and people involved in it should not be demoralised,” he said. (PTI)