Radha Mohan, a retired economics professor and his conservationist daughter, Sabarmatee, have been conferred with the Padma Shri – a recognition for their decades-long efforts to transform a barren land into a lush food forest in Odisha’s Nayagarh district.
Founded by the duo in 1990, Sambhav, the resource centre, has become a torch-bearer in the field of conservation, agriculture and organic farming.
“We did not start the centre in the hope of any recognition. We wanted to prove a point how ecology can be restored in a totally degraded land without the use of external inputs including fertilisers and pesticides. We have followed ecological principles only,” said Professor Radha Mohan.
When they landed near Odagaon, 110 km from Bhubaneswar, the land was completely barren. They started using ecological waste to create the top soil and subsequently began planting trees.
As a result, 36 hectares of degraded land now boasts of rare varieties of clove bean, jack bean, black rice and sword bean apart from a number of other food trees. The forest has over 1,000 species of plants and 500 varieties of rice, and supports a seed bank with 700 indigenous varieties of seeds.
While Professor Radha Mohan, a former information commissioner of Odisha, often shuttles between Bhubaneswar and the farm in Nayagarh district, his daughter, Sabarmatee, has been dedicatedly experimenting with different conservation models to improve the lives of the local farmers.
The Padma Shri was also bestowed upon Dayamanti Beshra, a prominent Santhali researcher, for her contribution to the field of education and literature. Hailing from a poor family in Mayurbhanj, Ms. Beshra completed her education mostly on government stipends.
The writer is one of the leading lights of Santhali literature and her research has contributed to the vanishing tribal language regaining its prominence in the Santhal tribal-dominated regions of the State. Since 2011, she has been publishing Karam Dar, the first Santhali women’s magazine. Ms Beshra was also honoured with the Sahitya Akademi award.