Uttarakhand’s ‘Tree Man’ Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani dies at 96

Conservationist and freedom fighter Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani, who was fondly called ‘Vriksha Manav’ or the Tree Man, died in his village in Uttarakhand’s Tehri district on Friday morning. He was 96.

Born on June 2, 1922, Saklani started planting trees when he was eight years old and grew over 50 lakh trees in the district.

“A decade ago, he lost his eyesight because mud and pebbles went into his eyes while planting trees. But, that did not deter him. Even without eyesight, he planted thousands of trees,” his son Santosh Swaroop Saklani, who works at the Governor’s Office, said.

Saklani single-handedly regenerated over a hundred-hectare area in his native Saklana village by planting rhododendron, guava and several other broad-leaved and fruiting trees during his lifetime. The land was barren when he started the initiative and now lush green forest stands tall today.

During his initial years, he was opposed by locals who believed he was trying to encroach upon their land by planting trees. His love and passion towards conserving environment and trees will be cherished by the people of the district for years to come, said locals.

His second wife Bhagwati Devi supported him in his passion for trees over the years. His first wife died in 1958.

“Trees were his everything. He used to say, trees are my family, my parents, my friends and my world. He did not wish to see the world because for him every tree was a world of its own,” 80-year-old Bhagwati said.

The forest area that was carefully planted by Saklani was named ‘Nagendra Dutt Saklani Van’ after his elder brother Nagendra Dutt Saklani, who was also a freedom fighter. Nagendra was instrumental in revolting against the ruler of Tehri in 1948 and his rebellion led to the merger of Tehri state to the Indian Union.

Saklani was honoured with the Indira Priyadarshini Award in 1986 by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.