Mumbai:A unique afforestation drive by Maharashtra to increase the green cover by planting two crore saplings was inaugurated by Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao, signalling the start of the Forest Festival (Vanamahotsav), here on Friday. The event in which schools, colleges, corporates, government departments and the defence establishments participated, marked the beginning of the state government's ambitious project to plant 50 crore saplings in the next three years. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Union Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar, Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray, and state Environment Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar were present on the occasion along with top government officials and 3,500 students at the five-hectare Mahim Nature Park. The defence authorities also joined in the drive by planting around 8,000 saplings at various establishments in Colaba, Kalina and Kandivali with the participation of defence personnel and their families. The Hinduja Foundation of the Hinduja Group, through its employees in various group companies started a month-long drive to plant 100,000 saplings in Thane's Jawahar sub-district. Mungantiwar said the state government has already finalised 65,674 sites and created a bank of over 5.32 crore saplings for distribution to the people. "Nurseries shall be developed in each village in the state for which funds will be made available through District Planning Committee. This will ensure ready availability of saplings throughout the next three years," Mungantiwar added. He said people have responded spontaneously who will also take part in a 'Selfie With Tree' contest. The Forest Department had prepared around 3.55 crore pits across the state for the plantation drive. To ensure proper preservation and maintenance of the saplings, one family per 1000 trees shall be provided employment under the Employment Guarantee Scheme, the minister added. Around five million (50 lakh) saplings are being planted and will be maintained by government employees all over the state for which they were officially given half-day off on Friday. The government plans to create a million-strong 'green army' of students drawn from the 89,000 schools in the state to create awareness about ecology.