Coimbatore: A bus conductor in Tamil Nadu has planted over 1 lakh trees across the state in the last 25 years. The conductor M Yoganathan is known as the Tree Man of the south. Yoganathan is a regular on the S-26 bus that runs on the Marudamalai-Gandhipuram route in Coimbatore. He has been a bus conductor for the past 25 years and is always on the go.
"I can do all these things only because I am a conductor, if I do any other work I have to work for the whole day. In this it's just half a day of work," he said.
His love for nature grew when as a student he would often sit and write poems under the shade of the trees of the Kotagiri forests while visiting his sister. But with this, his intolerance towards those who were destroying the green cover, also grew.
"I used to protest cutting of trees. I would go block the paths of lorries carrying the trees. I used to live in Nilagiri then. Before 1987 there used to be a lot of tea factories there. A huge number of trees from nearby forest areas were hacked down. After 1987, we staged a huge protest condemning these activities," he said.
But even as Yoganathan fought the timber mafia, he knew that the only way to change perceptions was through education.
Yoganathan has visited 2872 schools and colleges in every district of Tamil Nadu. He shows the students his slides, gathered over the years, some gifted to him by wildlife photographers, pictures of rare flowers and plants that are vanishing.
Telling his story, Yoganathan explained, "In carrying out my activities, I rubbed many people the wrong way. Timber traders used to beat me up. People used to pick fights with me for no valid reason. This hurt me so much that I entirely gave up all my activities for a while. But I couldn't stay."
Yoganathan puts in 40 per cent of his salary towards his cause, buying saplings and encouraging others to plant them. But Yoganathan says perusing his passion has not been easy.
Yoganathan's achievements also include a film on water conservation named 'Daagam', which featured in the CMS Vaatavaran film festival. The Tamil Nadu Transport Staff Federation helped him raise Rs 60,000 for the film, with each member contributing Rs 5.
As a part of his ritual, when he visits any school, he gets the students to pledge to protect the forests. In their willingness to learn, Yoganathan sees a greener future.