TILL THE age of 13, actor Sayaji Shinde, who is known for his onscreen villainous roles, used to stay with his parents in Velekamathi village in Satara district. The memories of his mother sending him to the forest to fetch wood for the kitchen fire are still fresh in his memory. Even after he shifted to Mumbai, he kept visiting the village regularly. However, in recent years, he noticed the reduction in forest cover around his village, which worried him.
Two years ago, he brought together a few of his friends and shared his thought to them. “Neither did we want to establish an NGO and collect funds nor were we keen on blaming politicians or the government. We just wanted to do some good work together for our ecosystem,” said the actor, who along with his friends and villagers planted around 20,000 trees in around 10 villages in Satara district over the past two years.
Shinde and his friends reached out to Velekamathi, Aaerewadi, Aangundewadi, Manewadi, Jyotibawadi, Pandarwadi, Dewadi, Ghodsewadi and Kolewadi. Asked what inspired him to take up the cause and the actor said, “The trees have been cut in a rampant manner but there has been no replantation. For instance, in our village, there are 16 types of mangoes. From the past four to five generations, people have lived on these mango trees but have not bothered to plant any. I thought this is the least we can do as individuals.”
Not many know that before Shinde started doing theatre followed by films, he was working as a watchman for Kanher Dam in Satara. Today, on either side of the road that goes from Manewadi to Kanher Dam, Shinde and group have planted almost 2,500 trees with the help of villagers. Initially, the group had taken the free plants that are provided by the government, however, when they realised that the plants were exotic and would harm the environment, they chose to invest their own money and bought indigenous trees of height between 5 ft and 10 ft, which were planted across the villages. In Pandarwadi, Dewadi, Ghodsewadi and Kolewadi, the four villages that come under Maan Taluka, the group have planted trees in a land of 50 acre and have named the project Sahyadri Devrai.