More than 260 million saplings were planted by more than a million people in a single day in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state as part of an annual mass tree-planting campaign to combat the effects of the ongoing climate crisis.
Hindu nationalist monk-turned-politician Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of the state, claimed this to be a new record and thanked all the officials and the forest department for accomplishing the feat.
“The exercise to plant more than 267.5 million saplings was accomplished on Sunday,” he was quoted as saying by The Indian Express newspaper. “I would like to congratulate the Forest Department which has done commendable work… today from 6am, you could see plantation being done at different places online,” he added.
The saplings were planted by politicians, government officials and activists under the state’s annual Van Mahotsav (afforestation festival) campaign with the goal of planting 300 million saplings between 1 July and 7 July.
India has set a target of having 33 per cent of its total land area under forest and tree cover. But the country of 1.3 billion is still some way short of its aim, with 25 per cent of its total land area under forest and tree cover amid growing pressure from a ballooning population and rising industrial projects.
The federal government has asked all the states and union territories to focus on encouraging tree-planting drives in keeping with prime minister Narendra Modi’s commitments made at the 2015 climate crisis summit in Paris.
The first climate crisis assessment report by the federal government warned that India’s temperature has increased by 0.7 degrees Celsius during the 1901–2018 period owing to greenhouse gas emissions and it will further rise by 4.4 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Amid concerns over the survival rate of saplings planted during mass drives, the UP CM said out of 220 million saplings planted last year, 95 per cent survived.
Their survival and growth are tracked through geotagging trees with QR codes, the government said.
“This tree is known to release maximum oxygen. So this plant is the ‘need of the hour’, as we are reminded of its importance after facing the oxygen shortage crisis when the outbreak was at its peak,” activist Shachindra Sharma told Associated Press, referring to the oxygen crisis the country faced during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dara Singh Chauhan, the state’s forest minister, said the forest cover of Uttar Pradesh – home to more people than Pakistan or Brazil – has increased by 3 per cent, compared to the national average of 2.89 per cent.
The Uttar Pradesh government has claimed to have planted 50 million, 110 million and 220 million plants in the last three years respectively.