What emotions does a bare hillock invoke in you? Sadness? Anger? Pain?
And then? We move on and get to our work, right?
But Mr. and Mrs. Garudkar thought otherwise. They were determined to change the look of this bare Baner hillock and that is how Dr. Garudkar’s Vasundhara Abhiyan was born!
History of Dr.Garudkar’s Vasundhara Abhiyan
Pune is called the city of hills because it is surrounded by hillocks. Traditionally, going for walk’s on the hills and kids going for treks here was a way of life. ‘Tekdi var phirayla jauya’ ( Let’s go for a walk on the hills) was the favourite timepass among young and old. Sadly, rapid urbanization changed the face of Pune with its hills disappearing or going bare. Many hills succumbed to the real-estate explosion and vanished from Pune. Dr. Garudkar had a clinic at the foot of one such bare hill in Baner. He and his wife lamented about the bare hillocks. The year was 2006, when they decided to do something about it and conserve the Baner hill and its bio-diversity.
The couple initially started planting trees and connecting with experts to understand how well can they protect and rejuvenate the hills. They were slowly joined by regular ‘tekdi-walkers’, kids and many volunteers. In the next 13 years, Vasundhara Abhiyan which started as a couple’s dream turned into a massive movement with hundreds of volunteers joining in.
Today the biggest reason for their success is the consistency with which this group has been working towards protecting and improving the biodiversity of Baner hills. They are also working towards soil and water conservation.
Work of Vasundhara Abhiyan
Today, Vasundhara Abhiyan undertakes a lot of activities around the topics of Soil and Water conservation, conserving biodiversity and improving the green cover on Baner hills. They organize a lot of awareness programs for children as well.
Initially, the volunteers did not have detailed knowledge about environmental protection. But soon they realized that just planting trees wasn’t enough but protecting them and caring for them in summers was equally important to ensure that the green cover is maintained.
Chetana Bhise, a volunteer involved with Vasundhara Abhiyan for the past 10 years said “ When Mr. and Mrs. Garudkar started this work, they were unaware about a lot of factors. They met Mr. Vasant Takalkar, a retired forest officer from Pune. He mentored them and the volunteers about the various aspects of environmental protection. This ensured that we took educated decisions and made the most of our efforts.”
Current work undertaken by Vasundhara Abhiyan
Chetana says that “Before the rainy season we do most of our work around soil and water conservation. This includes tree plantation as well.”
It was really interesting to understand the kind of work Vasundhara Abhiyan is undertaking from Chetana. She explained-
Trenching for Rainwater Harvesting
Before rainfall, we dig trenches of around 1.5 foot in step format, from foothills to the hilltop. This ensures that the water seeps into the ground slowly and improves the groundwater. This is also another way of ensuring that the water and soil that is usually washed away from the hilltops, down the drain is conserved in trenches.
While people know the importance of tree plantation, not many know about the importance of planting a local variety of trees. Our ecology is evolved and every tree that is found in a certain surroundings is because it is well adapted to the natural environment in that place. Such native plants are the ones that harbor birds, small animals and other insects which are important for the overall ecological balance. We ensure that all the plants that are planted here are native and well suited to the Baner terrain. Chetana says they have been able to plant and nurture 13000-13500 trees to date!
Mulching is a concept that helps improve soil quality. In this dry leaves, twigs, etc are collected and a layer of 2-3 feet is created around a tree. This organic cover helps retain moisture in the soil, keeps the roots and the soil around it cool and provides nutrients to the plants. It also helps in preventing weed growth around the plantation.
Miyawaki is a Japanese concept of growing lush dense forests in small areas. We have created such a forest in about 3-4000 square feet area near Baner foothills. First, a duct of 3-4 feet is created. It is filled with dry leaves and other organic material. Within an area of 1 by 1 meter, we plant three kinds of trees. The trees here are picked judiciously as we need to ensure the height of each is such that it does not block sunlight for the other.
After understanding all these various activities and the kind of work that is being done, I was extremely overwhelmed by the fact that these young warriors are using science and passion to ensure that hills in Pune are saved and lush.
My next question obviously was about how Chetana got connected with this work and her answer surprised me.
“While working with TCS I had the opportunity to come to Baner hills on World Environment Day and participate in the activities of Vasundhara Abhiyan. It had such a deep impact on me that for the last 10 years I have been associated with this group.”
Monali Shah, another volunteer with this group says “
After completing my course in ecological society on ecology, I was studying the flora of hills of Pune. I studied hills for 1.5 years. I wanted to use my acquired knowledge for conservation work and so I joined this group.”
The most commendable part here is that Vasundhara Abhiyan wants to create more such nature warriors and hence they regularly organize educational and fun activities for children like art workshops, tree walk, bird walk, environmental workshops etc.
Chetana says “We want this movement to spread all over Pune and beyond. As this is a work of passion, we are always eager to help people who wish to start such a movement in their locality. All you need to do is ask and our volunteers and experts will come to your locality and guide you in the process.”
Monali says “I advise selection of trees for plantation and other conservation measures to be taken. I also take awareness sessions for kids and all age groups like tree walk, bird walk, birds nest making workshop, etc.”
How can one join Vasundhara Abhiyan?
Anyone can drop in at Baner hills on Sunday and work with the group for 2 hours. If you end up coming regularly, which most people do, they add you to their group for regular notifications and updates about upcoming activities.
Simple isn’t it? So if you really wish to support this cause, just come to Baner hills and work with these passionate eco-warriors. It’s time to give back to nature and it can’t get simpler than this.
For more information connect on – https://www.facebook.com/Vasundharaabhiyan
I am writing this post as a part of Blogchatter #CauseAChatter initiative. This year my initiative is to focus on climate change and showcase young warriors from India who are working for this cause. If you know someone or some organization, do share in the comments below.