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The CleanUp Turahalli Group: The Forest Crusaders

By Saswati Borthakur

4 January, 2018

BananiVista Environment
  With the increasing concrete urban sprawls, our green covers and patches are diminishing. Reckless human activities are endangering the environment and the little spaces that we have left. Whereas some people crib about it, some people decide to act upon it. When a few ladies of a housing society decided to take up the cause of saving and conservation of trees in the nearby Turahalli forest in Bangalore, people sat up and took notice. With each tiny step, the resolve of these women grew stronger.   It is a pleasure for us to interview Sowmya Kashyap, one of the founding members of the Cleanup Turahalli Group.   Happy faces that make it all happen Happy faces that make it all happen  
BV: Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?  Also, please share something about your educational background.   Sowmya: A native of Mysore, during early days of my schooling and college, I had been an active participant of NCC and NSS.  As part of the NSS, I had participated in various social initiatives, and caring for nature has been a natural instinct. Currently, I have been living in Bangalore for the last two decades, after marriage.  
BV: We are interested to know about the members of the group working on the project of forest conservation. Would you like to share a few lines about them?  
Sowmya: The #CleanupTurahalli Core group has me- Sowmya Kashyap, Padmini Palaparthy, Vidyashree Bhat and Ambica Suresh. #CleanupTurahalli WhatsApp group has 80+ volunteers from across Bengaluru and DCF Dipika Bajpai. We share regular updates and volunteering activities which include cleaning the forest, planting and saving trees. We post activity updates on our Facebook Page- #cleanupturahalli
  BV: What inspired you to take up the idea of forest conservation such as Turahalli and contribute towards the environment? How and when did the like-mind group members come together?   Sowmya: It all started during one of our regular treks to the Turahalli forest during the winter of 2015. Myself, Padmini, Vidya, Venkatesh Sagare, Vijetha and a few others during our trek in the forest noticed unbelievable piles of garbage and litter all around. That's when we decided to take it upon ourselves, and the thought of keeping our surroundings clean and to safeguard and restore the natural glory of the forest began. As a next step, we came up with a dedicated Whatsapp group with regular cleanup initiatives on a weekly basis with volunteers from different walks of life joining hands with us giving momentum to this cause. Special thanks to the fellow residents from Sobha Forest View, its Managing Committee and neighboring Balaji Layout, Sobha Hill View and various nature enthusiasts who frequented the forest,  trekkers/Nature Walkers/Runners/rock climbers & cyclists.   Turahalli is a big attraction for nature lovers Turahalli is a big attraction for nature lovers  
BV: Any forest conservation or conservation of trees for that matter is a mammoth project. What strategy do you have in place in terms of mobilizing funds and volunteers? What initiatives have you undertaken?   Many volunteers turn up to help the cause Many volunteers turn up to help the cause   Sowmya: Initially, we mobilized funds by collecting old newspapers from the residents of our apartment building, who wholeheartedly supported the cause, even though we were just 30+ families, the very first such collection fetched us Rs.1960 from the sale of old newspapers. We utilized the funds for Gloves, Sanitizers, Rakes, Garbage bags and for getting the garbage cleared.The second newspaper collection drive almost doubled our collection to Rs.3715.   The group collects and sells old newspapers to fund their activities The group collects and sells old newspapers to fund their activities  
December is a holiday season and a party time for several new year revelers. The forest paved an easy way for vehicles like Tempo Travellers which would bring in large groups who would party inside the forest, only increasing the litter inside. Noticing this in 2016 January, we purchased 15 PVC bins of 3 ft height, tied it to trees with GI wires, placed these bins at garbage prone areas, and near the two temples inside the forest, with infographic messages in both English and Kannada to save the forest and keep it free of litter.   Many revelers litter and create ruckus inside the forest Many revelers litter and create ruckus inside the forest   As more participation from volunteers started to pour in from across Bengaluru especially the young & enthusiastic kids of all age group, we offered healthy snacks to those who joined us. An update on the spends is maintained & shared with the residents of Sobha by our core group member Padmini.   A pond near the temple which was full of filth and silt was cleaned with the help of many volunteers and filled with fresh tanker water. After exploring various options of filling the pond with fresh water we managed to convince a tanker operator to help us in this cause.  These good Samaritans agreed and filled the pond with fresh water.   A dirty pond inside Turahalli was cleaned and filled with fresh water A dirty pond inside Turahalli was cleaned and filled with fresh water   As part of the Vanamahotsava Plantation activity in the monsoon of 2016, we planted 200+ different species of saplings, we had an overwhelming response to this initiative with a huge turnout of volunteers for this activity in June. Later, we continued with our regular clean-ups. During Diwali, we saw more littering around with bursting of crackers inside the forest.   Seedballs ready to be planted Seedballs ready to be planted   In May 2017 with 50+ volunteers (who constituted people of all age groups) we received tremendous response from various groups like 'Uttishta Bharatha', 'My Kitchen-My Pharmacy', 'Organic Terrace gardening' and few individuals contributing a variety of seeds which enabled us to carry out seedball activity with 3000 seedballs ready to be dispersed in and around the forest area once it was dry in approximately a week's time.   Plantation in full swing Plantation in full swing  
BV: What are the biggest challenges that you face?  
Sowmya: During the early days, we faced inter-departmental challenges of them not seeing eye-to-eye or having a common ground to address the issues. We continue to find this an uphill task of clearing the garbage bags after every cleanup drive, we find our own ways to get this cleared. What pains us the most is, whenever there is a delay in clearing the collected garbage it is burnt and scattered all over.   A large number of volunteers join us mostly during the plantation drives which give the participants a sense of gratification. But since we didn’t have permission for a plantation activity this monsoon, many volunteers backed out. The lack of a sizeable number of volunteers on a regular basis continues to be a pain area. There are times when clean-ups were carried out with just 3 or 4 of us.   The group collects massive amount of garbage from the forest The group collects massive amount of garbage from the forest  
BV: What changes have you witnessed in the forest after you took up this cause? Has there been a change in people's perceptions?   Sowmya: Increased awareness and policing by the forest department has drastically reduced the quantity of garbage. We are happy to see that the bins are being used with little or no litter around the bins. The litter and nuisance inside the forest area have reduced, as some of the entry points have been blocked by the department. With less litter, we see less number of stray dogs in the forest.   The group has placed bins at various locations inside Turahalli The group has placed bins at various locations inside Turahalli  
The nature-obsessed couple, Vinay Orpe & Bhagyashree from our apartment building have planted many saplings and water them regularly during their walks.   Efforts have paid off as we notice during our visits that walkers and others use the bins and try to keep the forest area clean and litter-free.   BV: As a not-for-profit volunteer group, what support do you expect from the local authorities? Has the forest department been forthcoming with help?   Sowmya: The forest department has been very supportive of such causes, DCF Dipika Bajpai tops the list by being very proactive in addressing any help required, immediate action has been taken in addressing offenders. The local authorities could help conserve the forest by fencing the perimeter of the forest land, planting more local species and developing water bodies inside the forest for more bird habitation. Watering holes for birds in summer by the authorities would be highly beneficial in saving plenty of birds and other species.   BV: With all the great work that you do, has your group been bestowed upon with any rewards and/or recognition? If yes, please tell us something about it.   Sowmya: A lot of people are aware of our group and for any mischievous activity in the forest, people alert us. We feel that this is a great recognition and in turn, we inform the forest officials, who quickly swing into action. Few of the newspapers have voluntarily come forward and written about us, about our cause and concern for preserving trees, flora, and fauna in Turahalli. Through an FB post, runners group “Jayanagar Jaguars” joined hands in large numbers in March 2017, for massive clean-up drive with nearly 80 volunteers.   The local media has taken notice of the group's efforts The local media has taken notice of the group's efforts   My daughter, Shreya Kashyap with her father Vasuki Kashyap as part of her school’s “Social Awareness Program” (SAP) took up 24hrs of forest cleaning activity during her summer vacation. They tried to address issues related to the forest through an email to the PMO in September 2017.   During our walks, we stumbled upon a functional Kariyanaplaya Govt. School within the forest and as part of our 'joy of giving' initiative, we donated 40 bags to the children of the school, who are from remote villages of north Karnataka, their parents working as daily labourers in nearby construction sites. We sensitized and created awareness among these children on the importance of conserving the forest.   Also, would like to make a special mention here, Vidya and I, during our regular walk twice or thrice a week carry saplings and plant them in empty pits, carry extra bottles of water and water them and identify potential areas for the next clean-up drives.  
BV: Lastly, any word of advice for people genuinely wanting to contribute towards the environment and make others aware of the importance of planting and saving trees?  
Sowmya: More than advice, I would urge people to make conscious efforts to conserve forests and especially this green cover which is still close to the city which is a boon.  
 Thanking you on behalf of BananiVista for speaking with us.