While we talk about environmentalists, one name draws attention – Daripalli Ramaiah. Fondly called Chetla (trees) Ramaiah or Vanajeevi (forest being) Ramaiah, the Indian social worker, is known for his forestry initiatives. In 2017, he received the prestigious Padma Shri Award for his invaluable contribution to extending tree cover. To bring back the fast disappearing greenery, Daripalli planted over 10 million saplings in and around Khammam district. These saplings would grow into trees someday to provide – shade, fruits, and biodiesel for future generations.
Daripalli Ramaiah was born in 1937 in Reddypally village, about 15 km from Khammam town in eastern Telangana. He attended school only till Standard X but never gave up his love for reading. His thirst for knowledge of the habitat and environmental awareness continued. Instead of pursuing further studies, he decided to do something for the depleting green belt around him. He turned into a relentless campaigner of social forestry. He dedicated decades of his life to a cause close to his heart.
Ramaiah himself cannot recall when it all exactly started. He remembers vaguely seeing his mother saving the seeds to plant in the next season. Since then, he has been collecting seeds of native trees such as Sandalwood, Albizia saman, Ficus religiosa, Aegle marmelos, Neolamarckia cadamba, and many more to cover any barren land with beautiful green trees.
Like most changemakers, Daripalli Ramaiah also faced challenges. As he set out each day on his cycle sporting a board around his neck with the slogan: “Vriksho Rakshati Rakshitaha” (Save trees, it will save you), the villagers laughed at him. But, he remained unaffected by their mockery. Instead, he continued to pedal several kilometres to find barren land to plant saplings and sow seeds. He and his wife Janamma even sold off their three three-acre lands to mobilize money to buy seeds and saplings. He was confident that someday the area would bear trees. And yes, his undying efforts for over 50 years bore fruit literally and green cover for Telangana.
Today Daripalli is called the walking encyclopedia on plants. His small two-bedroom house in the village is like a mini-museum with billboards, placards, and flex banners containing slogans highlighting the importance of tree plantation. Furthermore, be it a marriage, or a birthday, or a wedding anniversary, he and his wife have made it a habit of gifting saplings.
Awards and Recognition
The government of India and the state government recognized his immense contribution. Daripalli Ramaiah received an honorary doctorate from the Academy of Universal Global Peace. On the second Telangana Formation Day celebrations on June 2, 2016, he received a cash prize of INR 100,000. He is now an active part of the state’s flagship programme – Telangana Ku Haritha Hāram (Green Garland). This programme aims to increase the state’s green cover from 24% to 33%. He has also won other prestigious awards like: –
- 2017 Padma Shri by former President Pranab Mukherjee
- 2015 National Innovations and Outstanding Traditional Knowledge Award
- 2005 Vanamitra Award
- 1995 Seva Award
According to Daripalli Ramaiah, “My responsibility has gone up with the Padma Shri. I will continue this campaign till my last breath. I will be happy if I am able to inspire at least one crore people so that each of them plants one tree each.”
Naresh Jilla has also written a biography, in Telugu, on the life and work of Daripalli Ramaiah. The book is titled – Vitthanam nundi Padmam Varaku-Vanajeevi Prayaanam.
Another Forest Man and 2013 Padma Shri awardee Jadav “Molai” Payeng, from Assam, also created a man-made forest. He turned the sandbar of the river Brahmaputra, Majuli into 550 hectares forest. If every state in India had a Daripalli Ramaiah and Jadav Payeng, India would be able to restore its depleting forests.