Meet the man who has planted over 17 million trees in the last 40 years and is still going strong!
Peepal Baba aka Swami Prem Parivartan is a man on a mission. He is his own breed and you rarely find any like him. As a young boy in fourth grade, 10 year old Azad Jain planted his first sapling after he was inspired by his social studies teacher Mrs. Williams at Spicers Memorial School, Pune. “She was a true story teller and her stories revolved around nature. As they say, like attracts like, those stories had a deep impact on me. She would talk about climate change, ozone depletion even way back in 1976-77. I would come back home and talk about these things but people called me mad”, Peepal Baba remembers fondly.
“She said that the earth is a one big functioning unit and it needs 40% of its surface area to be covered by trees all the time to make the planet habitable. The thought stuck with me and that’s how the seed of my journey was planted. I owe all my work to her.” His face lights up as we get talking about his journey of over 40 years of planting trees of all varieties.
“I strongly feel trees are central to everything that we do, we are, we were and we will be. Without trees there is nothing. NOTHING. All these scientific developments to tackle pollution are fine but you cannot undermine the importance of trees. Don’t get fooled if you think you can invent and make the pollution disappear. Only BIG lush green trees can do that.”
Rustic, mystic, jovial, childlike, energetic, full of stories, that’s Peepal Baba for you. Give him a cup of tea and lend him your ear and you can listen to his travelogues with admiration for a very long time. Swami Prem has criss-crossed the length and breadth of the country on his bike planting trees just about everywhere.
“My maternal grandmother loved the peepal tree. She used to live in an ashram in Allahabad and I grew up with her. So my childhood was very close to nature and rivers. On 26th Jan 1977, I planted 9 trees in Pune. I thought I was planting peepal trees but they turned out to be banyan trees! Those trees have today grown big, bold and beautiful.”
“Over the years, I have planted all sorts of trees like Neem, Peepal, Babul, Keekar, Amaltas, Mango, Sheesham, Chandan, Rubber Plant, Ashok, Deodar, Jamun, Bael, Cheer and many more but Peepal remains my favourite. It stuck with me as a child and we have in a way grown together.”
From that day onwards the child of ten years turned into a big man on a mission. He gave up everything, including sports and pleasures and just indulged in his favourite hobby, past time or passion, call it what you may – planting trees – in his house, on the terrace, in plastic bottles, caps, polybags, milk bags. Left over fruit seeds collected from friends and family too find their place in his kitchen garden.
“The rains were good in those days and there was no water shortage and hardly any tree used to die. According to my diary, more than 250,000 trees are surviving in Pune alone that were planted by me. When I was a kid, people would allow me to even trespass as they saw my work as doing a good deed. These days things are different. People have hundreds of excuses to not plant trees. We must educate them. ”
“I was a voracious reader and marks used to be good so no one could point fingers. I guess being close to trees tends to make you wiser; they share their knowledge and wisdom and experience with you in ways only you can understand.”
Being from an army background, we were always on the move – Pune, Allahabad, Kolkata, Dehradoon, Jalandhar etc. I used to teach my graduation classmates and charge Rs. 40. That money would go towards my monthly needs and planting trees. I have worked in close cooperation with the armed forces also to plant trees. When I finished my post graduation from Pune, I decided not go into a regular job but continued to teach and managed well.”
When I was a kid, people would allow me to even trespass as they saw my work as doing a good deed. These days things are different. People have hundreds of excuses to not plant trees. We must educate them
“People had begun to know by then that there is a crazy man who plants trees all the time and I used to get calls from everywhere. I met Osho during my college days. I connected with him instantly and his discourses helped me a lot. My christening as Swami Prem Parivartan was done at his Ashram. This was in 1984 and thus it became my real and legal name as well. ”
So how do you do, what you do? And what are your learnings? “I have travelled all across India on motorcycle. Ninety-nine percent environmentalists are not aware of what is the need at the ground level. Community working is looked down upon in India unlike Europe but with more youngsters joining the initiatives, that scene is changing fast. “
“I don’t want to spend a lot of energy in raising money. The government must support people who are doing genuine work. I have worked with more than 60-70,000 volunteers from across India who help conserve the tree saplings that are planted in various public and private places like gardens, roadsides, highways, expressways, road medians, schools, colleges, university areas, military stations, mountains and river banks. I take guest lecturers in schools and colleges and workshops on organic farming and natural living all over India. I also promote fertiliser-less agriculture. So that takes care of my bills.”
Apart from peepal, he has planted more than 40 lakh neem trees as well. The total number of trees planted by Baba is more than 2 crore but his estimates tell him that around 1.7 crore are surviving.
“For me my work is spiritual and therefore it was never commercialized or organised. I have not created a forest in one place. I go and plant a sapling wherever it is needed. I happened to meet John Abraham in 2010. He encouraged me to formalize my work and so “Give Me Trees Trust” or GMT Trust was born. He also gifted me a bike seeing the condition of my then bike! I have also done CSR for Reliance and found immense support from them. Dr Blossom Kocchar the natural cosmetic maker has also supported me since the last many years.”
“Today the GMT Trust has grown into one of largest community tree planting initiatives in the world and I have at least 30 more years to give to my passion. This work is for the future generations. It is our way of giving back to the planet. It is our way of thanking the planet and trees for what they do for us without asking for anything in return”.
GMT Trust works with an aim to plant trees for birds, bees and butterflies to restore the natural balance of the world.
His advice to youngsters is simple – don’t find your tree, let the tree find you.
Peepal Baba currently resides in his home cum nursery combined at Mayur Vihar, Delhi, from where he plans all his travels and planting schedules all across the country. He is also building world’s largest nursery for Peepal plants in Jaunapur village of South Delhi.