Professor T.J. Renuka Prasad is 61 years old, living in the staff quarters at Bangalore University's campus in Jnanabharathi. He spends his days, as he has for the last four decades, tending to the 300-acre mini forest he has created, the country's only Geo Park. The Park is also home to a 3.2 billion year old rock formation, hundreds of species of butterflies, birds and animals, which schoolchildren explore with amazement as they see for themselves, the history of the natural world unfold before their eyes. Professor Renuka Prasad tells M.K. Ashoka his story
Giant cathedral ant hills rise like little towers, some nearly 14 feet high. Over 148 varieties of butterflies thrive, too and in the month of October, the land is a burst of colour as lakhs of butterflies burst free from their cocoons. Several peacocks strut through the trees, much to the delight of schoolchildren, who often visit on day-trips, to glimpse, in this urban jungle, the beauty of nature. Where is this? In Bengaluru, at the 1,100-acre Bangalore University campus in Jnanabharathi, which is home to the country's only 'Geo Park'! The man behind this phenomenal accomplishment belongs to the University's department of Geology, Professor T.J. Renuka Prasad.
Always casually dressed, in a t-shirt, cap and jeans, well-equipped to walk through his little green kingdom, Professor Renuka Prasad now shoulders the tremendous responsibility of maintaining his geo park. The campus' forest cover, however, had been the cynosure of environmentalists' eyes even before he arrived, when the now retired, senior bureaucrat and forest officer, Yellappa Reddy, sowed the seeds for a 300-acre forest. Professor Prasad, who became involved with this project, went on to create another 300-acre mini forest of his own.
Professor Prasad conceptualised the 'Bio, Geo and Hydro tour', a half-day study tour for school children. "I do this with the cooperation of retired volunteers who were holding top posts in the Geological Survey of India (GSI)," he says. "Young children can see for themselves, the rock formation, which is 3.2 billion years old, as we explain how important it is to keep our valleys intact. Otherwise, there will be no groundwater left," he explains. The anthills, too, are an indication of ample subsurface level water. There are 149 bird species that call the mini forest their home, as do wild rabbits, peacocks and fox. The water level on campus, says Professor Prasad, has come up to about six metres. All this took him four decades of leadership and hard, hard work to achieve.
"I should note the vision of people like Yellappa Reddy and consecutive University Vice Chancellors, volunteers and retired officers who have come together to create this," Professor Prasad explains.
"Much of the development has taken place through donations, so the process has not placed a financial burden on the university, either."
The Geo Park
The High Court in Lokadalath had observed that there is no Geo Park in INdia. When they asked for a report on the matter, Professor Renuka Prasad, who had, by then, seen the potential of the Jnanabharathi campus, with its ancient rock formations, decided not to make do with merely submitting a report. He decided instead, to create a Geo Park.
Today, his dream has been realised. The Geo Park in Jnanabharathi is the only one of its kind in the country. The children who visit learn how the earth rotates at a speed of 1,600 kilometres per hour, the movement of tectonic plates, the dynamic nature of Mother Earth and how volcanoes and tsunamis happen. The students also see signature proofs of the earth's evolution, in the form of rock folding, fractures, joints and intrusions. "They learn that deformations on earth created valleys and fractures, which are in turn filled with water, minerals and other resources on which the survival of mankind depends," says Professor Prasad.
Civil engineering students also visit the Geo Park, before they go on to join the BBMP and BDA. When they go on to do development work, it will be with an understanding of the natural, sociological and hydraulic dynamics of the city.
Professor Prasad explains that he gave the least importance to creating 'lawns' and show plants. Instead, he dedicated himself to the cultivation of rare, endangered and threatened species of plants, as well as medicinal plants. There are 500 Appe Midi (Appe raw mango) plants, 50 varieties in all. Rare specimens like Punnaga vana, Purusha Ratna and varieties of Dasha Puspas are also found.
Professor Renuka Prasad says he was introduced to mother earth by his father. Young and curious, he was instantly captivated. The nature bug has bitten him so hard that he still doesn't move away from the campus' residential facility - faculty members often do and the housing is given out to non-teaching staff.
As a young professor, he would leave the labs open until midnight, allowing students to stay in the room when it was too late to leave. He even introduced new courses like Geo Informatics, Earth Atmospheric Science and many others into Bangalore University.
Today, Professor Renuka Prasad is 61 years old, a specialist in water resources, surface water, ground water, water quality, computer application, remote sensing and GIS techniques, as well as geostatics. He is an expert advisor in the cases of the Lok Adalath, to the government of Karnataka on Tank Rejuvenation and Water Bodies Development, an advisor to the BDA and BBMP in the management of earth resources, the drainage network and water bodies in particular. He has been appointed to many boards and universities. Although he is at retirement age, his well-wishers ask him to stay on and nurture his forest for a little while longer.
The lush vegetation casts its spell on the thousands of joggers and walkers who visit the Jnanabharathi campus every morning and evening. The man behind it all appears to blend into the crowd but takes inroads that only he knows, into the dense forest. "Coincidentally, the love of my life is Vasundhara, which means 'daughter of earth', he says. "And I'm lucky to have the full support of my family in my work." Looking back on his life, he says, "God blessed me, I have been a happy soul all through. I have stood before the photograph of my father and thanked him a million times for placing me on the lap of Mother nature."