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Planting trees for gun licences: how an Indian district is tackling the water crisis

The district of Ferozepur in the Indian state of Punjab has come up with a new measure to preserve groundwater, forcing those seeking a firearms licence to plant at least ten saplings – and prove it with a selfie.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. A district in the Indian state of Punjab that has been reeling due to an extreme water crisis has found a peculiar way to deal with it. The inhabitants of the northern state’s Ferozepur district have to plant at least ten tree saplings to obtain a firearms licence. It may sound bizarre but it’s a well-thought strategy devised by the local administration: trees are the natural rechargers of underground water and also slow down stormwater runoff. This is also a major step in creating awareness about an environment that has virtually been gasping for breath.

Ferozepur punjab india plating trees gun licences water crisis
An applicant for a gun licence in the Indian district of Ferozepur in Punjab state. The picture is sent to the local government to prove the applicant has planted trees, as required by the new law. Courtesy of Punjab state government

Tree planting for gun licences in Ferozepur

The order promulgated on World Environment Day on 5 June clearly states that those seeking gun licences have to plant at least ten trees.“We’ve strictly asked the applicants to plant ten saplings and take a selfie to get the application form for the licence,” says Chander Gaind, Deputy Commissioner of Ferozepur district, praised in government and public circles for this unique initiative. “The applicant has to visit us again after one month with a selfie to prove that the saplings are being taken care of. The official proceedings for the licence start only if the activity has been managed well”.

Chander says that he has received over 100 applications since the order was passed. “We aim to plant at least 12,000 saplings in the next year. We also plan to extend the rule to the renewal of licences, which would further boost the green environment. We receive around 500 applications for renewable licences every month and around 5,000 saplings can be grown in that period, which can translate into 60,000 a year”. The district alone has around 20,000 gun users, he adds.

Ferozepur punjab india plating trees gun licences water crisis
An applicant for a gun licence in the Indian district of Ferozepur in Punjab state. The picture is sent to the local government to prove the applicant has planted trees, as required by the new law. Courtesy of the Punjab State Government

Tackling the water crisis in India

“Since the implementation of the rule, I’ve been receiving accolades on social media”, Chander points out, specifying that the overwhelming response has encouraged him to create awareness on the project. “I think that the same rule, if implemented across the country, could bring a sea change in the environment and could help mitigate the water crisis.”

Read more: India, conserving rainwater in subsurface soil to fight water scarcity

Ferozepur punjab india plating trees gun licences water crisis
An applicant for a gun licence in the Indian district of Ferozepur in Punjab state. The picture is sent to the local government to prove the applicant has planted trees, as required by the new law. Courtesy of the Punjab State Government

Punjab, the state that derives its name from five rivers – Beas, Sutlej, Ravi, Jhelum and Chenab – has grappled with extreme water shortages throughout its history, like many other in India. Massive exploitation of underground water has led to water scarcity in several of the state’s regions. Guzzling water on rice paddies, for example, is one of the causes of the sorry state of affairs. In some of the districts, water has been rendered unsuitable for irrigation due to excessive use.

Government reports fear that Punjab is on the verge of becoming a dry state, and that the change may occur in just a few years if no timely action is taken to save underground water. Besides, extensive development works including widening of roads and building of flyovers has also led to dwindling green cover, which may in part be recovered thanks to the unique initiative adopted in Ferozepur.

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