By Aasif Sultan
Abdul Hamid Bhat, 52, a Kashmiri businessman-cum-environmental activist, has travelled to different parts of the world to spread his ideas about a greener world. Aasif Sultan spoke to this school dropout about his mission.
Your brief introduction.
I was born and brought up in Batamaloo area of Srinagar. I failed in my Class 10 examination and then went straight to a mechanic shop in Numashi (Kashmir Haat) to make a living. That was the beginning. Later, I started my own mechanic shop in Hyderpora. Thus started my business journey in 1995.
How did the idea of ‘Mission Green Kashmir’ come to you?
As a part of our advertising campaign, my firm, Rahim Motors, used to print yearly diaries and calendars and distributed them among the people. Then one day an idea struck my mind. Instead of giving calendars and diaries, why should not I give plant saplings to people, I thought. With this the idea of ‘Mission Green Kashmir’ got germinated and we started giving saplings to the people to make Kashmir a greener place. This small endeavour was well taken by one and all.
The idea gathered momentum, and since 2008, we have undertaken plantation drives in various parts of the Valley. We have planted trees in masjids, mandirs, gurdwaras. We adopted a Budgam village, Satheran, and afforested its area. In Lala Ded maternity hospital, we distributed hybrid pomegranate trees among the patients and asked them to plant it as remembrance of the new-born.
In Khan Sahib, Budgam, we distributed walnut trees among the villagers so that it will become a source of income for them in the coming years.
You have been invited to dozens of international events. How were you received?
I am a member of International Association for Voluntary Effort, which works closely with the United Nations Volunteers. In 2017, a US-based university selected me for a fellowship program at the Bartos Institute for the Constructive Engagement of Conflict. During the trip, I also attended the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference. The organisers were very impressed by my unique concept of Common Man’s Social Responsibility. I had the chance to meet many volunteers from different parts of the world and share my experience and hear their experience. It was very rewarding. In March this year, I was invited to a conference in Germany which was organised by the UN.
Why not launch an environmental NGO?
Starting an NGO is not the answer for our woes, though I know a number of NGOs in the Valley like Athrout and Help Poor which are doing an excellent job. I always share my expertise with them. My idea is that every individual must get sensitised to play his/her part towards a greener environment and a better world.
There are a number of NGOs, and mine will be another drop to the ocean. Idea has to be powerful and it hardly matters whether you work as an individual or an organisation.
Give us some statistics about your plantation drive.
We have planted around 150,000 plants which included conifers, chinars, walnuts, pine, deodar and Budur. It has two-fold benefit: helps the environment, and generates revenue for the State.
What is ‘Rahim Green’?
It is in the memory of my father, Abdul Rahim Bhat. Every son wants to make people remember his parents with a good mention. That is why the name ‘Rahim Green’. Besides, my father would always emphasise on planting more and more trees. We owned a good chunk of land in the outskirts of Srinagar which was full of trees and greenery.
Are you busy with any other form of activism beside environment?
Yes, I have a free ambulance service for needy patients. I also provide them oxygen concentrators.
Do you like to be addressed as a businessman or an activist?
Primarily, I am a businessman. But, as a responsible citizen, I am an activist. It is by virtue of my business that I became an activist. Since I do not take a penny in donation for my activism, business remains my top priority. At the same time, my business can only flourish when my environment is in good shape.
How do you strike a balance between the two?
Experience teaches you to strike the balance.
Did you ever find a conflict of interest between an activist and a businessman in you?
The question would have arisen only if I took donations from people for my activism. I do not. And I intend to not raise funds in the future. I want to remain what I am. Nothing less, nothing more.
Any message to our young generation?
I advise my children to become job givers rather than job seekers. This way we shall become a self-sustaining society.
This brief interview appeared in Kashmir Narrator’s April issue. To subscribe to Narrator’s print edition, please mail here: [email protected]