Green Drive Began from Home

sun rays forming shadows of tall trees

In the earlier issue of Karma Konnect I had mentioned how my association with Nek Chand Ji, a self-taught artist famous for transforming trash and debris into the world-famous Rock Garden of Chandigarh, had turned me into an environmentalist. And in 1987, I set up a target of planting one-lakh trees in Delhi in the next 10 years.

The decision to reach that figure meant that I had to plant 10,000 trees in a year. Abiding by the guiding principle: ‘Greening, like charity, begins at home; but should not end there’, I began the drive from my own house in Golf Links. De-concretization of both sides of the driveway was done to plant more trees. Thereafter, the garden landscape underwent a transformation to accommodate a lot more trees and shrubs. Next, the spaces immediately outside my house, including the brown patch of land that was called ‘a public park’, was turned into a mini forest. The practice expanded. We beautified the streets by planting trees and maintaining them in over one km radius (including a police station) from my commercial and residential establishments. This marked the beginning of my romance with the social plantation, which I realized was my real calling. Schools and colleges began approaching me for funding their annual festivals and I would convert the discussions to tree lining their boundary periphery! It mostly worked. This was also the time when the winds of change were blowing in Tihar Jail under Kiran Bedi, who was my tennis friend. Presently the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, she was then Inspector General, Prisons.

The entire prison protocols and management were being ‘humanized’ under her leadership. And because of my association with her and staff, a massive tree plantation drive took place in Jail numbers 1 to 4. (Ironically, in November 2011, when I landed up in Tihar Jail for a 6-day stay due to a wrongful accusation, during my morning and evening walks, those very trees that I had planted provided me shade and succor! It was an interesting observation that the survival rate of trees planted and maintained by Tihar Jail inmates was 90 per cent, whereas less than 10 per cent of trees survived at the local (Greater Kailash) police station. These were planted by us, but maintained by the cops. Meanwhile, in the process of making the environs green all around, I had become immensely close to the trees I was planting. I would often check out their growth and feel elated at the success rate of their survival. That affection has taken another course and whenever I find the opportunity, I take detours and go around communicating (in silence) with the trees that I have planted on the roadsides and in my own properties. But while undertaking this journey towards various eco-initiatives, I have faced several stumbling blocks. A major one happened when I went out of my way to remove advertisement boards nailed to the trees. Nailing boards on trees is not only illegal, but people also do not realize that nails eventually kill trees. My family, friends and the entire staff volunteered to help me in this mission. Everyone had a hook-hammer lying in his or her vehicle at all times.

In a few stray incidents, some of us were even beaten up and taken to the police station to explain why we were trying to ‘affect’ local businesses by removing the boards! After few years of tree planting, but not being able to meet up with my 10,000 a year target, I was struck with the idea that to plant more trees the best option was to buy suburban and rural lands. Beginning by investing in the Vasant Kunj (Green Avenue) property, by 1989, I had started major land banking. In hindsight, it was a smart move and in the real estate business parlance, what was happening meant ‘investing in horizontal real estate’. The land acquisition for an ecoresort, now known as Karma Lakelands, also began around that time. But back then; it became a cause of concern. In the mid-90s, the Government of Haryana was planning and significantly expanding their abutting industrial township in Manesar. It came to my notice that if we kept our lands dedicated only to growing trees, these lands would soon be acquired by the government and encompassed into the ever-expanding industrial township called Industrial Model Township (IMT).

To hold on to this significant piece of land, we needed to have some substantial plan. Thus, a think-tank comprising of international project appraisal companies, local tourism officials and golf, real estate and hospitality experts was created to give sustainable ideas for the land. As for reaching the target of planting one-lakh trees, within a decade, I had surpassed that mark. I continue with the practice but without stressing myself in the pursuit of achieving any target. In fact, at Karma Lakelands (KL), an eco-responsible golf resort with luxury living options in Gurugram, we have planted over 2 lakh trees and plants in the past 20 years. Not only that, we are committed to a number of other eco-friendly practices. (To know about our efforts and dedication towards rainwater harvesting, sewage treatment plant and solar energy project, watch out for the next issue of the magazine)