A group of school boys who got together to plant trees in their neighbourhood would go on to become one of Bengaluru's most prominent citizen-led groups. Friends of Lakes and its founder, Ram Prasad, have become instrumental in rejuvenating the city's dying lakes. Recently, an offer from the BBMP to help clean a pond in Cubbon Park led to the discovery of seven, 100-year-old wells, all dilapidated. Ram Prasad tells Aksheev Thakur about the Million Wells Recharge campaign and how it has brought the traditional well-diggers, the Manu Vaddar community, back into relevance.
It was the year 1989 and most schoolboys his age spent their evenings grazing their knees as they played out on the streets. Ram Prasad, known today as the co-founder of the proactive citizens’ group Friends of Lakes, was no ordinary 12-year-old, though. Growing up in Vidyaranyapura here in Bengaluru, he had found his passion – the environment, by the time he hit his teens. Nobody imagined them, not even Prasad himself, that small-scale environmental activity, focussed on one neighbourhood, would, in 2011, become Bengaluru’s largest citizen-led lake revival groups.
“I spent my childhood with friends, playing at the banks of lakes. Our environmental activity then was mostly about conservation or planting trees in Vidyaranyapura,” recalls Prasad.
“The childhood days with friends were spent playing at the lake shores and environmental activities were mostly related to the conservation or planting of trees in Vidyaranyapura. “Even then, we called the groups Friends of Lakes (FoL) and Friends of Trees (FoT).
The friends re-grouped in 2011 and Friends of Lakes was formed once more, to protect and rejuvenate lakes in Vidyaranyapura and Doddabommasandra. “We are an informal group with a clear-cut, focussed agenda towards conservation of water bodies and their biodiversity,” he says. Even the informal fabric of the group was intended, an experiment they tried under the able guidance of S. Vishwanath (Zenrainman, as he is fondly known), of the rainwater club and Biome, Prasad explains. FoL now has 22 lakes under its ambit, with many citizens under its fold. The group has also earned the trust of government officials.
“As there is no money involved, only true, passionate volunteers joined the group to strengthen it technically, scientifically and professionally. Our credibility is testimony to the fact that we have no monetary ambitions,” Prasad points out.
It was a difficult goal to have and Prasad rightly takes pride in the fact that FoL has remained a democratic organisation. To the point where on some occasions, volunteers were allowed to go ahead and make a decision despite his opposition to it. “Selfless voluntarism and passion for the environment can save biodiversity,” he reflects. “Research and environmental organizations like ATREE, Biome, CDD, Water Institute of Bengaluru University, CMRIT and CII have played an integral role in the success of FOL,” Prasad says.
In his personal capacity, Prasad has worked on Solid Waste Management (SWM) and his decade-long struggle against the usage of lakes for idol immersion has finally led the BBMP to get tough on those who flaunt the rules.
“Waste was being diverted into lakes and that brought me face-to-face with the issue of Solid Waste Management, which is plaguing the city,” says Prasad, referring to Ganesh Chaturthi, when idols are immersed in nearby water bodies. “I suggested that separate ponds be used for idol immersion.” The BBMP agreed and decided on a pilot project in Yelahanka, which proved very successful. “It was then replicated across the city and the Kalyanis are now an important part of lake rejuvenation,” he adds.
The knowledge he has gathered over the years makes him an able advisor, not only to a citzens’ group in Africa but also to the government of Jammu and Kashmir!
Now, as Bengaluru struggles through the throes of an acute water shortage, Prasad and Vishwanath have found a way out. That’s how the Million Wells Recharge campaign was born. Together, they successfully recharged the hundred-year-old wells in Cubbon Park, a shining example of the campaign’s success.
“India Cares Foundation wanted to clean the pond in the park and while we worke don it, we found seven wells, all dilapidated,” he says. Recharging the well has made t hem understand that it could work as a strategy for flood mitigation too. The project also brought the Manu Vaddar community, the traditional well-digging community, to the limelight.
Now, Friends of Lakes shares a friendly rapport with the BBMP, a factor that has never stood in the way of him criticising the civic agency when required. Prasad blames the lack of coordination between Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), BBMP and the Storm Water Drain Department for the mess that the lakes are in, today.
“The mess is shown in the way rejuvenation is done. The agency should have environmentalists, hydrologists, Geologists etc in their technical department. This is where FoL comes in with a crucial role in the rejuvenation of lakes and also to spread literacy on issues of water security.
“I am trying to give as much as I can to this city. My aim is to get the city at least 20 rank in the Swacch Survekshan results in 2020,” he concludes.
Last week, he was awarded the Environment Conservation Award by the Rotary Club of Bangalore....