April 21, 2009
Center for Environmental Sciences, Coimbatore
Visitors to Amrita’s Coimbatore campus are often struck by its beauty. They remark about the lush greenery, the shaded walkways lined by trees, the serene atmosphere. When Wall Street Journal’s livemint.com ran a feature on Amrita School of Business at this campus, it wrote about the campus as being perhaps India’s most picturesque campus. Indeed, students and faculty members also express the same feelings — to them, the campus is like an oasis in a desert.
For, just beyond the boundaries of the 350-acre campus, is a completely different terrain. Vegetation is thin, the land is dry and covered with thorny shrubs. This is how the campus was also, when land was first purchased by Amrita, nearly eighteen years ago. For two years, before a college could be started, the land had to be first cleared. The first trees were planted then. Today there are one lakh trees on this campus; they certainly seem as if they have been there forever. 90% of these trees are less than ten years old, however.
“The greening of this campus could become a case study for all institutions wanting to undertake a similar exercise,” states Dr. Aravindakshan, the driving force behind this miraculous transformation. Dr. Aravindakshan, now the Director of the Amrita Center for Environmental Sciences in Coimbatore, was working at Kerala Agricultural University. “After I had Amma’s darshan, I met Abhayamrita Swamiji,” he recalls. “Swamiji was looking for someone who could take charge of the landscaping of the young campus.”
That was in 1998. With a ten-member team, Dr. Aravind soon set to work. “We never used any chemical fertilizers or pesticides,” he narrates. “Swamiji provided a lot of guidance and support. For instance, he would never allow trees to be cut down to make way for buildings.” As the college grew, the number of students and staff on campus increased. Effluent treatment plants were set up, so that waste water from hostels and staff-quarters could be used. “Today the ETPs supply all our irrigation needs.”
Over the years, students have also taken an active part in the effort. “We already have the largest collection of trees in South India,” shares Dr. Aravind. “Agricultural University arranges field trips for their students to come here and study the various species.” Planting of trees continues unabated. With the help of saplings donated to villagers, green cover is now slowly extending to the nearby hills also. These activities are perhaps what has led to a drop in the average recorded temperature of the region by nearly five degrees.
A majestic statue of Saraswathi Devi sits against the backdrop of the Western Ghats. “Even though I am not an engineer, I made a drawing and gave it to the sculptors. Usually the goddess of learning is shown seated atop a rock, here she sits in a lotus.” The statue has become something of an icon; now nearly every Amrita campus has one. It is easy to see that a lot of love has been poured into the making and greening of this Amrita campus. The beautiful landscaped expanses, the all-pervading tranquil ambience; this has been a labor of love.
“Amma has now asked me to help with landscaping efforts at other Amrita campuses too,” remarks Dr. Aravind. Much younger, the other campuses still have ongoing construction in some cases. “With God’s grace, I am sure that we will be able to repeat the same miracle again and again on all of the Amrita campuses.”