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Reach of the Rishi Valley School[continued]

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Up goes a wall and down comes another:

JK's dream of extending the greening programme beyond the campus inched a little further in 1980 when the Andhra Pradesh government ceded to the School's care, some 150 acres on the south hills. For years the School had been trying to regenerate these hills. But recurring droughts combined with penury of villagers had dashed all efforts. Deliberately set scrub fire was a routine myopic practice to encourage quick fodder soon as the first rains fell. Constant grazing gave no opportunity for the regeneration process.

The redoubtable Naidu proposed he would build a stone wall to fence off the 150 acres. It was an outrageously daunting project fraught with social tensions. Villagers resented it. But Naidu was upto the task. It took him over a year but he did it. He is a big made man who has just turned seventy. He is a YMCA-trained fitness coach and loves the outdoors. He rallied the students and they participated in great numbers. One can get an idea of what the hills looked like in the 1980s from the background in this picture.

The wall itself is made of locally found rocks stacked with care but without any mortar [Picture]. But it snakes over 2.5 kilometres of undulating ground, up hill and down slope![Picture] And it has made all the difference. Naidu and the students have also, over the years, intervened in about 6000 places digging tiny ponds, building bunds, plugging run-offs, creating recharge trenches and of course, planting ceaselessly. They planted over 20,000 saplings every year and continue to do so. In the summer they form bucket-brigades to water the stressed plants. Nature as always responded handsomely[ Picture 1 ] , [ Picture 2 ]

Social tensions that the wall had caused were resolved once and for all, ironically because of the drought itself. By the mid eighties, when the whole region was parched, the walled south hills produced abundant fodder. Simply because the wall had foiled grazing. The School generously allowed the villagers to harvest all the fodder they wanted. As heavily laden bullock carts creaked off the hills, they were beyond the turning point. Villagers learnt lessons in sustainability: if nature is left alone and given a chance, it makes do with whatever rains that come by and roars back with abundance.

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