Sunday, September 15, 2019
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Eco warriorsCreating magic: Bengaluru’s Kyalasanahalli Lake, which has been revived following efforts by Anand Malligavad

Eco warriors

We all see it and do nothing. Here are some extraordinary individuals who saw a chance to make a difference and committed themselves to making a positive change14 Sep 2019 | 12:14 AM

We have wreaked a near-irreversible damage to our planet. The air we breathe in is turning precariously poisonous, even as the agricultural cycles are getting disrupted due to changing global temperatures. India, too, has been reeling under its worst water crisis.

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Arushi Chaudhary

We have wreaked a near-irreversible damage to our planet. The air we breathe in is turning precariously poisonous, even as the agricultural cycles are getting disrupted due to changing global temperatures. India, too, has been reeling under its worst water crisis. According to a NITI Aayog report published in 2018, our country has less than five years to take corrective measures before ground water runs dry in at least 21 of its major cities. But for some armchair activism with social media posts and shares, little is being done to check this imminent ecological disaster. There are, however, ordinary people who have taken it upon themselves to make a difference. 

Spreading Awareness  

Among them is 26-year-old Ramveer Tanwar, who has dedicated his life to reviving dying or dead water bodies in India. A mechanical engineer by training, Ramveer organised the first Jal Chopal in Gadhana village in Uttar Pradesh in 2013. He says, “In my native village, I had seen people digging borewells for their submersible pumps  deeper every few years due to the receding groundwater levels. I started reading about water shortage in the country. In the Jal Chopal, I tried to educate people about water conservation. Between 2013 and 2014, I organised many such Jal Chopals in the neighbouring villages as well. This caught the attention of the District Magistrate who got a two-minute clip made on the work I was doing and played this film in cinema halls ahead of movie screenings,” Ramveer says.

The recognition lent impetus to his initiatives on water conservation. “I started out by reviving one pond in my village by removing all waste, silt and water hyacinths and setting up filtration pits and making it capable of recharging the ground water. Thereafter, I planted saplings all around the pond.” So far, he has revived 15 water bodies in his home district, besides some in Saharanpur and Meerut. Ramveer, who wants to make this a pan-India initiative, has streamlined his efforts by registering an NGO named Say Water. 

The accidental environmentalist 

Chennai-based environment activist Arun Krishnamurthy (33) has been championing the cause of lake revival in India. “I grew up in suburban Chennai. The lakes and ponds of the city have been its identity. Watching these water bodies getting subjected to urban abuse affected me deeply. After a childhood friend reminded me that merely worrying about it would not change anything, we got into action. We started an initiative to clean a neighbourhood pond. Many people turned up to help. The visible change at the pond motivated me to take on more such efforts,” Arun says. In 2007, he started the Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI). In the past 12 years, EFI has revived 93 water bodies across 14 states in the country. Of these, the Kinhi-Gadegaon Lake in Vidharbha and the Vadalur Lake in Tamil Nadu are the most notable. The EFI also focuses on the revival of urban lakes across the country.

A holiday well spent

On an annual vacation to India, Datta Patil (37), a US-based techie working with Yahoo!, was driven towards the cause of reviving water bodies in his native village, Halgara in the Latur district of Maharashtra. “On every visit to India, I noticed that the landscape of  my home land had changed for the worse. The land seemed to appear more and more parched and barren. On a pilgrimage to Pandharpur in 2016, I saw stretches of barren land all along. I wanted to do something about it. Thereafter, I cancelled all my plans for the two-week trip and got in touch with my friend from the village. After some brain-storming, we decided to revive a canal flowing through our village. We pooled in Rs 2.5 lakh each. Thereafter, we held a meeting with the villagers who pledged another Rs 5 lakh, collectively. With this sum, we started the de-silting of the canal. I shared the details of this initiative on Facebook, along with pictures of the work we were doing. Several of my friends and colleagues offered to contribute. I, then, pitched the project to Yahoo! and received funds to execute the project on a larger scale,” says Datta. 

“After an in-depth research, we launched a well-rounded project of setting up watershed management structures for the revival of this canal. This included repairing 10 existing check dams, constructing three new gabion check dams, and covering 1,500 hectares of land with compartment bunds to avoid fresh silt formation. We have also planted more than 10,000 trees along the area in a span of three years. This has helped in checking 200 crore litres of water storage with rainwater as the source.” Datta intends to carry out similar projects in 100 other villages. “Instead of replicating one model, we want to understand and work on  pressing concerns in a particular village”. 

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45 days to a clean lake 

In Bengaluru, Anand Malligavad (38) was getting uneasy about the deteriorating water situation in his hometown Bengaluru, and the country, at large. “I would cross the Kyalasanahalli Lake on my way to work every day and was appalled by its condition. In 2015, I read a report that mentioned that after Cape Town, Bengaluru would be the second city in the world to run out of water. The time to worry was behind us, and it was the time to act. I approached the authorities for help but they were reluctant, at best, and cynical, at worst. I did an in-depth research on the nature of the lakes in Bengaluru and started studying on ways to revive these. Meanwhile, the Karnataka Government launched the ‘Bring Back the Lakes’ programme. A meeting with the Lake Development Authority and the Forest Minister helped to sign a Memorandum of Interest with the government to revive the Kyalasanahalli Lake,” says Anand. 

 Sansera Engineering, the company he worked for, promised to contribute Rs 1 crore for this initiative. The government estimated pegged the cost at Rs 15-16 crore. After eight months of research, Anand was able to bring down the cost to Rs 1 crore. Single-handedly overseeing the work of clearing the lake, Anand was able to revive this 36-acre water body in just 45 days. “I was able to convince residents of 450 houses in the vicinity of the lake to get onboard with the initiative.We got the water body of 4 lakh CC of mud with the help of two JCBs, six trucks and a fork line. Two raj nallahs of 1.5 km each were opened and several sub nallahs to support the water body. The mud removed from the lake was used to create five islands. More than 18,000 saplings were planted on these islands , which transformed these into a green haven. It now serves as a nesting ground for different 

species of birds today,” Anand says. The success of Kyalasanahalli Lake received lot of support from many corporate houses. In a span of two years, Anand has infused a new life into three more lakes in Bangalore — Vabasandra Lake, Konasandra Lake and Gavi Lake. In January, he quit his job to devote himself to reviving water bodies. He has also set up the Lake Revivers Collective, a crowdfunding initiative to finance these projects. 

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Iconic waterman

Rajendra Singh, widely known as the Waterman of India, is a force to reckon with. An ayurvedic doctor by training, Rajendra Singh left a secure government job back in 1984 and dedicated his life towards the cause of water conservation. He started the Tarun Bharat Sangh, which has with help of volunteers and associates, built more than 8,600 johads (water storage tanks) and other water conversation structures. It has brought back water resources in more than 1,000 villages and revived 12 rivers in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Rajendra, along with his associate Prof GD Agrawal, then turned his attention to ailing big rivers like Yamuna and Ganga. He, however, feels not enough is being done by various governments to preserve the rivers. The Ramon Magsaysay Award winner is currently organising a World Water Walk across 60 countries to understand displacement of people due to water scarcity, its consequence and ways to avoid it.   

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