While Vijay Nishanth (34) may not describe himself as a tree-hugger, he agrees that his efforts to safeguard the city’s tree cover in the face of relentless development might see him described as one.
“As a resident of Bangalore, I started to feel terrible about how many trees were being cut down and how the city was starting to lose its green cover,” he said, adding that he felt compelled to do something about it when he was a student at an engineering college.
Alarmed by the increased scale of urbanisation, Nishanth and his classmates, Shariff S and Ravikumar R, in 2009 discussed ways to protect the city’s environment.
Their talks prompted Nishanth to create a new foundation to digitally map all trees in the city for the public record to ensure that they will not be arbitrarily felled.
A decade later, Nishanth, who now describes himself as ‘India’s only tree doctor’, proudly explains that he is a college dropout.
Vruksha Foundation, which Nishanth jointly heads with Shariff, Ravikumar and Chaveen T V, who handles backend logistics, has seen the digital mapping of nearly 8,000 trees across three wards in the city — Jayanagar East, Tilaknagar and Pattabhirama Nagar. The challenges of collecting data during that period were enormous.
“All we had was a seven-inch tablet that we used for the tagging of the trees and the work itself was costly because until four to five years ago, internet access was costly,” Shariff said.
Data collected so far is available online at the foundation’s website, with the group planning to release an Android app later this year. Shariff, who designed the app, hoped it would drive community engagement.
He believed people will begin tagging trees in their neighbourhoods, reporting bird nests and weakened branches, much like users report vehicle accidents on Google maps.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, which has long maintained that it does not have data on trees in
the city has promised to utilise the data shared by the foundation.
Palike awaits funds
BBMP’s tree officer M K Cholarajappa said the Palike is preparing for its own census but is awaiting Rs 2 crore funding from the central government.
“The digitisation of this tree data is a good thing,” said Revathy Ashok, CEO of Bangalore Political Action Committee, a citizens’ group helmed by Biocon tycoon Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, with a mission to improve governance and enhance the quality of life in the city. “It will help us understand the impact of tree cutting on the environment.”
Nishanth said: “Over the next 10 years, we will be able to show, with images, what trees exist or existed on what roads, with all pertinent details.”
Vruksha members hope that public participation will sustain their work.
“People have to get involved,” said Chaveen. “Everyone knows the tree cover is depleting. Before, perhaps, people did not know how to reach out for help. With technology, it’s not difficult to find solutions.”