Verhaen Khanna’s foray into mango tree plantation began last year when he stumbled upon some mango seeding that had come up near a drain with no soil around it. Image Credit: Nilima Pathak/Gulf News

New Delhi: If you are fond of eating mangoes and throw the kernels in the dustbin, here’s some advice from New Delhi-based nature lover Verhaen Khanna. “Please don’t throw away the seeds,” Khanna implores. He has come up with an innovative campaign ‘Aam Khao, Guthli Bachao’ (Eat Mango, Save Seed) and is carrying it forward with such fervour that the activist has been nicknamed ‘the new aam aadmi of Delhi’.

Khanna says, “I tell people to enjoy the mango, wash the seed properly, soak it in water for about two hours, sun dry it for a day, replant the seed and enjoy the fruits of that tree forever.” But if re-plantation is not possible, the seeds can be parcelled to the nature activist. Khanna turns them into healthy saplings in the kitchen garden of his residence at New Friend’s Colony.

The saplings are then transported to farms, parks, bio-diversity zones and wildlife sanctuaries to increase the green cover of the city. “It takes some concerted effort to see few seeds resulting into an orchard. These trees attract various kinds of birds and support insect life,” he conveys.

“As per the 2016-2017 Economic Survey of Delhi, the total forest and tree cover area in the city increased to 299.77 sq km in 2015 from 297.81 sq km in 2013, which is 20.22 per cent of the total area of Delhi. However, that is not enough,” the environmentalist, says.

While the National Forest Policy, 1998, provides that a minimum of one-third of the total land area of the country should be under forest or tree cover, the Delhi government is endeavouring to meet the national goal and is constantly making efforts to increase forests and tree cover area.

The initiatives, such as his, Khanna feels, can make a huge difference. Using the Facebook platform to promote his NGO, New Delhi Nature Society, and by supporting organisations having similar goals, his awareness campaigns have led to people planting trees in their compounds. Many respond by sending cartons of mango and other fruit seeds to him.

A keen environmentalist, 28-year-old Khanna holds a degree in flying commercial aircraft and had procured a licence at the age of 19. Though drawn to nature from an early age, his foray into mango tree plantation began last year when he stumbled upon some mango seeding that had come up near a drain with no soil around it. “I realised that such saplings could be put to good use and planted them on road sides from where I pass often and see them grow,” he informs.

“I often collect mango seeds from acquaintances and put them in the compost in my garden. Each seed has the potential to grow into a full-fledged robust tree that can support thousands of fruits in its lifetime. He chooses parks and road dividers to plant trees, as the municipal corporations and resident welfare associations are required to take care of them thereafter.

“At many places we are not given permission for plantation. My research showed scores of trees native to the city were becoming extinct. Discreetly, I started the process of planting saplings in places, where they would be taken care of without attracting attention. It might be hard to believe, but I have planted trees in people’s homes without them realising it!” he laughs.

Khanna’s another unique initiative is conducting tree-climbing sessions and sensitisation campaigns. He makes a startling revelation, “Many children suffer from ‘tree blindness’. Equipped with the latest electronic gadgets, they can only see shopping malls and vehicular traffic, but not trees. So used to comforts inside their homes, they don’t know the pleasure of the shade of a tree or how to climb it.

“We have been conducting tree-climbing workshops for free in certain parks, where like-minded people ensure hassle free fun for children and their parents. In most places, we found the authorities refused to let children climb trees, though they had no qualms about the trees being cut or felled in the name of development! Initially, when we began such programmes, I was myself shocked to find children being scared of even touching trees. But once they managed to climb them, they would not want to come down.”

Khanna feels, the generation that neither reads story books related to environment, nor goes out to play in parks, is disconnected with nature and cannot be expected to work towards saving the environment. He says, “My mission is to not only cure ‘tree blindness’, but also ensure children visit the city’s green environs to unwind. I want them to develop an affinity for trees and will make nature a ‘cool’ sport for the younger generation.”