Assam along with the rest of the country, celebrated Van Mahotsav in the first week of July. Millions of saplings have been planted in the country as part of this festival since it was first initiated in 1950. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi spoke of his government’s plans to plant 25 lakh saplings across the State this year. Such programmes are mostly in social forestry, with saplings planted in government wasteland and village common land. But it cannot make up for the loss of tural forest cover, as the wood and paper industry and timber mafia cut down trees at an alarming rate. The protection and planting of trees should therefore be a year-round activity, a part of broader environmental awareness among the people. Instead of being an official programme with various government departments setting targets for planting saplings, it should be a popular movement. After all, scientific studies have added much to the traditiol knowledge about trees. Whether acting as ‘carbon sinks’ in absorbing carbon dioxide, cleaning the air by absorbing pollutants, moderating the local atmosphere, helping to conserve water, preventing soil erosion and desertification, supporting a variety of life and yielding valuable products — trees are truly our friends. The efficient manner in which trees use resources and give back more to the planet while processing their own waste, serves as a model of sustaible living that mankind has only lately begun to appreciate. When we look at trees with a broader awareness and learn to value them, we must also link it up with conservation and cleanliness efforts. The overall message is that the effort of each one of us, however small and insignificant it may seem, adds up to the larger global benefit. And in Assam, we do have a shining example of what contribution just one man can make towards the environment. Jadav Payeng, feted as the ‘Forest Man of India’, has single-handedly grown a forest on a 550-hectare sandbar in the middle of the Brahmaputra. It is now a living forest full of rare trees, to which wild birds and animals are flocking.