Meet The Six Young Indians Blazing A Trail To Make Bangalore Green Again - Homegrown

Meet The Six Young Indians Blazing A Trail To Make Bangalore Green Again

Back when Bangalore was still a quaint retirement’s paradise, it proudly wore the name Garden City on its sleeves. Bangalore’s growth is a transformation from green neighborhood parks to global tech parks.

Let me paint you a picture: In the year 2000, Bangaloreans used to boast of its perfect hill-station like weather at all times of the year, air conditioners in homes were an anomaly, sprawling trees forming a canopy over roads was commonplace at every nook and cranny in the city. Today, while Bangalore’s weather is still better than most metropolitan cities in India, its climate is changing with a steep 12.5% rise in maximum temperatures and 60% decline in rainfall within the last decade. To become India’s Silicon Valley from Garden City, Bangalore’s natural green cover reduced by 59% since the 70s; 54% of the lakes were encroached for illegal buildings; only 3.4% of the population is environmentally literate and the air became increasingly dusty and polluted. The statistics are staggering and discouraging for any citizen who wants to make a difference.

Not all is lost because here are people who have dedicated their time, energy and creative thinking towards bringing Bangalore back to its glory Garden City days. Each of them hold the causes close to their heart and let their actions speak for themselves.

I. Amith Amarnath, Founder of Youth For Parivarthan

The Army of Youth combating Bangalore’s raging garbage war.

When Amith saw a children’s park close to his house inundated with all the garbage from his neighborhood, he couldn’t sit still. He didn’t see a single person lift their finger to fix the problem, but many complained relentlessly. He gathered a few people, cleaned it up and that was the first of many ‘spot fixes’ that became the very heart of YFP’s movement. What started as a simple neighbourhood cleanup turned into an organization with over 1000 members purely through word-of-mouth and an active Facebook group of environmentally literate Bangaloreans.

YFP used to spruce up spots in Bangalore that they felt were polluted, but now they largely take requests from residents in neighborhoods in all parts of the city. When they receive a request, they begin to crowdfund from that neighborhood so that the community feels a sense of ownership for future maintenance. They visit the spot, do a feasibility and requirement check, schedule an event on their Facebook page and begin the work at 8am on weekends. During the spot fixes, they have a couple of volunteers go door-to-door to spread awareness and request them to join in on the spot fix.

Amith speaks of the spot fixes with pride, “You get to see the result in a span of five of six hours. When we start the place looks really ugly and dirty, by the end of the day the way it looks gives immense satisfaction.” While the spot fixes are his favourite initiative, one of the main challenges they face is the maintenance after they are done. They’ve seen places go back to being dumps after putting in hours of effort to clean them up over weekends. After 140+ spot fixes around the city, they’ve learned what works and doesn’t. For a successful spot fix, he says there needs to be consistent effort from the community in that neighbourhood as well.

They started with a simple motto, “Stop complaining, start acting” and Amith has built a community of like-minded individuals with the same values. They’ve spoken loud and clear with their actions and worked closely with their community, local representatives, BBMP and corporates to continue making Bangalore green again.

To take part in YFP’s movement, register to become a member.

II. Nikhil Kaushik, Nitesh Kumar and Anirudh Sharma, Co-Founders of Graviky Labs

Harvesting toxic air pollution for artists’ ink since 2016.

Back in 2013, Anirudh came up with the initial idea that you can use air pollution to make ink. What might have seemed like a far-fetched idea then is now a reality. The Co-Founders Nikhil, Nitesh and Anirudh established a commercial lab in Bangalore to work on multiple ideas, hoping that they mature into full-fledged commercial products. “We wanted to build things that are unique in nature, something that nobody is doing, and something that solves a social problem.” Air Ink fit the bill and was one of the ideas that picked up in 2016.

They faced challenges typical to hardware startups, primarily long periods of time for R&D and slow scalability. Their success started with collaboration with Heineken in May 2016 and a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Their Kickstarter addressed a simple question that they came up with in the MIT Media Lab, “How can we turn something as ugly as air pollution into something as useful as ink?” The product derived to answer that question ended up raising more than three times of what they expected. Since then, they have deployed their products for air pollution collection in Bangalore and sent the Air Ink for use in 45 countries.

The increase in awareness about air pollution worked for them. “People were ready to use the product, we didn’t have to convince anyone about why it was required” says Kaushik. Artists are now drawn to socially responsible materials so Air Ink is a no-brainer.

Kaalink, the air pollution collection technology, is deployed only in Bangalore. They hope to expand the air pollution collection to other countries and are currently looking into cities in South America. Meanwhile, we can’t stop looking at all the art made from Air Ink. To follow the team’s journey and keep up with art from Air Ink, follow their Instagram @gravikylabs

Nikhil Kaushik, Nitesh Kumar and Anirudh Sharma
Nikhil Kaushik, Nitesh Kumar and Anirudh Sharma

III. Kapil Sharma, Founder of SayTrees

Saving Bangalore from its concrete jungle future, one sapling at a time.

When Kapil Sharma was angry about the mindless deforestation in Bangalore in 2007, he connected with the community and local authorities and planted 100 saplings. SayTrees is now a full blown professionally-run organization that planted 98,000 saplings in 2017.

It all started when Kapil Sharma saw the destruction of trees in Bangalore every day on the way back from work. “I used to feel bad every single time I saw a tree being cut down. Back in 2007, I thought I should do something about it.” Initially when he tried to connect with the BBMP and forest department offices to begin the discussion about tree cutting, he was met with confusion. They were surprised when someone was there to plant trees and not take them down. They supported his cause and with that, Sharma began his initial plantation drives in any empty space he could find in Bangalore.

He quickly realized that SayTrees needs to scale up to make a substantial difference in Bangalore. He made use of different segments of the community like cycling groups and wildlife photographers who were already invested in the environment and were inclined to help plant more trees. Sharma insists on marking their growth on their social media outlets so that volunteers can see their efforts make a difference and inspire more people to join. To further accelerate their progress, SayTrees started employing the use of the Japanese Miyawaki method of tree plantation that is proven to show faster and healthier growth.

Sharma is no longer based in Bangalore, he relocated to Pennsylvania in 2016. However, his passion to bring back Bangalore’s Garden City status is undeterred. One of the initiatives he spearheaded in 2017 was to create public vertical gardens with auto-drip irrigation systems. They began with a pillar on the Hosur Road Electronics City Flyover and would have loved to cover the entire flyover. However, they faced challenges in maintaining the garden and building a self-sustainable ecosystem. They continue to experiment with different gardening techniques so that they can create these all over Bangalore.

Today, Sharma is passionate about lake rejuvenation. In April 2018, he started the process of rejuvenating a lake in Bommasandra. They started talking to the villagers who encroached the area, the village panchayat and other members of the community. After receiving an overwhelmingly positive response and support, they expect that the lake will be rejuvenated by the end of this monsoon.

Kapil Sharma
Kapil Sharma

IV. Sandeep Anirudhan, Founder of Aikyam Community for Sustainable Living

Building a self-reliant community that raises its middle finger at capitalist institutions bringing down Mother Earth.

Sandeep Anirudhan realized that the biggest failure of our institutions is the breakdown of community. To correct this, he founded Aikyam so that people could have a space to share knowledge that is left out of educations systems, increase environment literacy and ask questions that are never considered in the mainstream discourse.

In 2014, Anirudhan started his journey of sustainability. He had an awakening after which he felt like that there was a lack of consciousness about the immediate environment. He began to question the framework of governance, the success of democracy, capitalism and how it all affects the planet. “Our education system is broken,” he said, “It wasn’t designed to make us conscious or aware. It was created to make individuals who participate in economic activity.”

The first Aikyam event called ‘Earthly Choices’ in March 2016 was a success. With a few announcements of Facebook and local communities, he managed to gather over a hundred people in Atta Galatta . Now they have monthly meetings in which they have workshops, discussions and participation in initiatives in Bangalore that focus on the environment

One of the pillars of sustainability is to increase consciousness. To maintain this cause, Anirudhan insists to keep the organization free from money. “It’s the source of all the institutions, why should we take part in the very system that we are trying to question? We don’t raise funds. We ask our community to contribute and so far, we have never faced a challenge.”

‘No challenges’ seem like a stretch, but Anirudhan says that so far he has been successful in every endeavour. They have held protests to save lakes, increased awareness about soil in urban and rural areas, conducted workshops for social action and community building and held conferences in collaboration with Bhoomi College.

To join the Aikyam community, all you require is a questioning mind and acceptance to their Facebook group.

Sandeep Anirudhan
Sandeep Anirudhan

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