Care for cover
setting out on the Kudur-Hulikal road in Karnataka one is greeted by a lush canopy overhead formed by banyan trees on either side of the highway: the handiwork of a unique couple hailing from Hulikal village in Bangalore (rural) district. Thimmakka and her late husband Bikkalu Chikkaiah laboured over these trees for over four decades. All the trees are full-grown and render invaluable service to the preservation of local biodiversity and provide villagers with fodder and firewood.
It all started in the late '40s when the region was hit by a drought. The revenue inspector came up with a novel drought-relief measure when he lured villagers with ration coupons in return for planting trees along the road. His plan could have terminated there and then when the villagers planted the saplings if it were not for foresighted revenue officials who entrusted Chikkaiah with the task of watering them, in which Thimmakka assisted him in full measure. The couple decided to go ahead with the work entrusted to them even after the drought ended. What is remarkable is that they did so at a time when conservation was unknown in the form it is propagated today.
Older trees in Hulikal provided the saplings, which Thimmakka planted 20-25 m apart. Today, the trees have attained a height of 15-20 m and cumulatively constitute a whopping 36,900 tonne of biomass. They house several hundred birds in addition to monkeys, squirrels and insects. Tender shoots and fallen fruit constitute fodder for domesticated animals in the area. Above all, the refreshing shade and aesthetic value rendered by the trees speaks volumes about the spirit behind them.
The couple's efforts have been recognised and rewarded. Thimmakka was awarded the National Citizen Award in 1995 by the government of India and with the Vanashri Award by the Karnataka government. Bikkalu Chikkaiah was honoured in a public function held at the famous Sugganahalli cattle fair back in 1958.
However, it sad that Thimmakka's (Chikkaiah died eight years ago) interest might end with her since no villager has come forward to pitch in. Far from aiding her efforts, the local folk are more of a threat to the trees, which in any case regularly fall prey to heavy rain and gusty winds. Many from the neighbouring villages indiscriminately harvest wood for timber and firewood. Without a worthy successor, the example set by Chikkaiah and Thimmakka may become a thing of the past.
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