India has a population of over 1.2 billion people, making it the second most populated country in the world. While efforts to reduce poverty continue to grow and have improved the lives of many, the adverse environmental impact of combining such a large population with rapid economic and social development are inevitably felt across the nation. But Indians are not prepared to let their own development be at the expense of the planet, and efforts to improve their nation’s environmental impact are noticeably present. These efforts are not just at the policy level, but also involve corporations and people who give their time, knowledge and money to improve environmental conditions. A hugely successful example of this is the “My Earth My Duty” initiative, spearheaded by India’s 24 hour news and current affairs broadcaster, Zee News.
My Earth My Duty is part of Zee News’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy and is aimed at educating the nation about taking action to improve the environment, specifically by mobilizing the country to plant more trees. The initiative first started in 2010 and is now an annual event which starts every year on 5 June, World Environment Day, and builds momentum until a selected day in August or September on which volunteers plant trees all over the country. Volunteers in the past have included schoolchildren, religious leaders and communities, the armed forces, government ministers and celebrities.
This year the tree planting will take place on India’s Independence Day. Amita Dahiya, a UN Volunteer involved in the project explains, "Our Independence Day is on the 15th August. India is celebrating its 65th Independence Day this year and our flag includes the colour green in it, so they are planning to connect it with the campaign for 2012 and will involve more partners for a greener economy."
The tree planting has been hugely successful in the past. In 2010 and 2011 the organisers had just a day assigned for the planting and on the two designated days for the initiative’s tree planting, a combined total of eight million trees were planted. The planting is countrywide, from Leh in the north to Kanyakumari in the south, and in 2011 alone involved more than 50 million volunteers who planted and subsequently nurtured saplings across the country. The challenges of running a national yet grassroots campaign across such a diverse and vast country are great, as Amita explains.
“A series of events on the ground such as rallies, seminars, camps, painting competitions and street plays were organized between June and September 2011. The organisers used social media, in particular Facebook, You Tube and Twitter, as well as their website, to promote the initiative. Zee News took out adverts in magazines, newspapers and on radio. They publicised the event directly via text messages to mobile phones andran promotions at coffee shops, airport lounges and other public places. Paying for all of these as part of their CSR programme”.
“To override the biggest barriers of language and culture, Zee News utilized its biggest strength in their eight national and regional channels. These operate in five different languages - Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Telugu and Marathi. By doing so, they reached out not only to urban India, but also to rural India”.
Amita, who planted a tree at a gathering in Delhi, described how the atmosphere was electric. “There must have been over 500 schoolchildren present as well as the head of the World Wide Fund for Nature. The planting itself was coordinated by members of India’s Eco Task Force and the volunteers who organised the planting had already dug the holes for us, so we just had to plant the trees where the holes were. They made it very easy for everyone. In total, I think at my location, we planted over 500 trees".
She added, "It was a work day and our planting took place in the morning. We were finished by 11am, but they coordinated the planting at 90 different locations so that on TV they would flash across live to the different locations during the day. What’s more is that there were also some people who couldn't physically do the planting themselves, but they could pledge online that they wanted a tree to be planted in their name, and someone would plant a tree for them.”
The trees themselves were mostly donated by the supporting agencies such as the government Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Eco Task Force. Donations from the general public were also used to buy more plants. The land where the trees were planted were either public property, village owned land or were ground provided to the campaign by its partners. The organisers also ensured that the trees themselves were selected in order to be appropriate for the ecosystems into which they were being planted and that after the planting had finished, surveys were carried out to monitor the growth and health of the trees.
“My Earth My Duty is a good platform and reminder that we cannot survive for long without harmony with nature. Nature provides for us all in abundance, therefore its preservation for future generations becomes our collective responsibility”, Amita says. "We need to take care of the planet. We need to learn and understand how important it is to sustain our future. These are the ways in which we learn about nature and how to sustain it, so that it can be preserved.”
When asked what she felt was the biggest achievement in the campaign, Amita told us, “We crossed the boundaries of diversity, language and culture in order to unite and connect people from all over India to join hands for a single cause. These included people from rural India who do not even have access to a radio, so it was quite a challenge but was one that we achieved. Perhaps our biggest contribution is yet to happen in that, for me, this kind of campaign is possible to replicate in other countries. If others can do the same, we’ll have made an even bigger impact”.