I see trees of green Red roses too I see them bloom For me and you And I think to myself What a wonderful world
This extremely popular Louis Armstrong song from 1967, written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss will not get old as long as the human heart will long for beauty and in our evolutionary history we never have stopped. The story of Pune’s Anandvan is one that emerged from a human heart that longed for beauty.
From a dump yard to an urban forest in Pune’s NIBM road, Anandvan sets an example of what the indomitable human spirit can do. An initiative that Praveen Kumar started along with his wife Ranjana in 2013 saw this hill dumped with medical waste, construction scrap and other waste materials transform into a forest full of flowering and fruit-bearing trees where squirrels, uniquely coloured songbirds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators inhabit.
While Kumar’s mission was simple — to eradicate plastic waste — he had a tough time fighting off “bad elements”, as he chooses to call drug users and traffickers. Yes, aside from the hill being a dump yard it had over time become a haven for drug users and traffickers. Kumar recalls feeling utterly defenceless against them, "I was reduced to tears every time I was threatened by gangsters who relentlessly tried to prevent me from progressing with the cleaning. It was extremely frightening." The fear dissuaded him from filing a police complaint against them. However, he found a way out of it by resolving to rope in like-minded people to work alongside him. He recalls standing by the road with Ranjana urging people to join his clean-up initiative, which by then was slowly gaining momentum as a small movement of sorts. It took these crusaders almost four years to clean up the hill.
“On 29th March 2014, we planted 24 jamun trees. I had no idea about forest making. I never started this with that focus. My intention was to get rid of plastic waste. I would request youngsters, citizens, housewives who manage household waste to get rid of plastic from our lives, as air pollution would also be a problem eventually, ground water will decrease and over time cease to exist,” recalls Kumar.
Fortunately for Kumar, the forest department took notice of his work and along with the Pune Municipal Corporation soon helped Kumar build an urban forest. Anandvan 1 in Pune's NIBM Road, being the first is spread over 33 acres. It has small gazebos for people to relax after their morning walk, perform yoga or meditate. It today is an escape, not far away from the bustle of busy city life, under the peaceful tree canopies.
That’s not all. There are three more Anandvans, today in Pune. Anandvan 2 is spread over 19 acres. Anandvan 3 covering 68 acres is still in the making and Anandvan 4 covers 25 acres. These will be handed over soon to the Anandvan Foundation by the Forest Department.
Kumar was bitten by the cleaning bug when he was working as a General Manager in a pharmaceutical company and found his calling in giving back to the society. After spending most of his life in Dehradun and Haridwar, Kumar shifted base to Pune and since then mission Anandvan has become his full-time job. He has two sons who: a mechanical engineer in Delhi and a software engineer in Pune. His sons are his biggest champions; they contribute generously to help further their father’s cause.
Kumar’s effort to educate the youth about the negative effects of plastic pollution and importance of sustainable practices also has him working with schools, colleges and corporates who participate actively in furthering the cause of the Foundation. The Foundation also has a nursery and an 80G tax exemption certificate for those who wish to donate funds.
Kumar's efforts continue. “When you have the moral support of your family and other well-wishers, you can make not one or two or three but hundreds of forests,” he says.