Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani planted his first sapling when he was eight years old. Later, he would plant saplings to deal with the grief of his brother’s death, then his wife’s death. On Friday, Saklani, known as Uttarakhand’s ‘Vriksha Manav’ or ‘Tree Man’ died aged 96, and his family estimates that he must have planted as many as 50 lakh trees in Tehri Garhwal district in his lifetime.
Saklani’s second wife helped him with his efforts, often convincing locals to conserve the environment. He was awarded the Indira Priyadarshini Award in 1986 by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
“He lost his eyesight about ten years ago. He had something called eye hemorrhage from the dust and mud from planting saplings,” his son Santosh Swaroop Saklani, who works as a protocol officer to the governor at Raj Bhavan in Dehradun, told The Indian Express. “He started planting saplings when he was a young boy. He used to learn the technique of grafting from his uncle.”
A father of nine children – four sons and five daughters – Saklani would disappear for long hours after his older brother had passed away and would spend the whole day planting saplings. “Then when our mother died in 1958, it was the second tragedy in his life which also saw him spending a lot of time with trees and saplings,” said Santosh.
Though his efforts have largely been confined to the district in which he grew up, the forests that were once dense thanks to his efforts around the Sujargaon village in Tehri Garhwal are slowly being eaten up, Santosh said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the forests have been eroded over the years as people have diverted it for various purposes,” he said.
While Saklani’s children gather for their father’s funeral, which will take place in Rishikesh on Saturday, Santosh says his father’s spirit lives in the forests he helped grow. “He would often say that he had not nine but 50 lakh children, I will now search for him in the forests,” he said
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