Nishanth Project Vruksha is aimed at identifying trees and seeking help to preserve them as well as standing up to the continued tree felling in the city.
How does one know the number of trees in a city? Is it possible to count the number of trees or keep track of the trees that are being cut? How do we ensure that there is accountability in maintaining the green cover in cities?
Vijay Nishanth from Bengaluru seems to have answers to these questions and more.
For the love of the garden city
Vijay comes from Jayanagar, the southern part of Bengaluru, which is lush with trees of different varieties, species old and new. Vijay, who is also an animal rights activist and an urban conservationist, reminisces his childhood, which was filled with memories of identifying trees, and picking fruits off them. He talks of a time when Bengaluru was famously called the Garden City of India, a title it steadfastly held onto those days.
Always been told by peers and mentors that trees needed to be saved and grown, Vijay took a keen interest in nature and its conservation, right from his childhood. Vijay also worked as an intern at Atree, under the guidance of Harini Nagendra, and has also been a volunteer for Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP)'s Forest Cell for more than 10 years.
He realised that trees were being chopped off all over the city and the number of trees that were being felled was never accounted for. “I began to understand that there needs to be some tracking mechanism in place. I quit engineering and joined a friend’s company, when I got the time to concentrate on environmental issues. I worked with a software company, which was into mapping houses,” says Vijay.
Using the know-how and expertise from his stint at the software job, Vijay decided to apply the ideas and the techniques he learnt to track trees on his website, Vruksha.com. Vruksha was founded in 2010 with help from a friend, Ravi Kumar, who helped with the funding. Shariff S, one of the co-founders of Vruksha, built the app and the platform to enable the documentation process. He comes from a technical background and has skills in working on GIS systems and e-commerce solutions.
Along with his friends, he started off by tagging 115 trees in his ward in Jayanagar. The whole process was done by recording and documenting an overall assessment of the trees, the species, height, and health condition.
Although initially BBMP took a keen interest in the project, because of political will the project wasn’t undertaken until 2013. And the Vruksha team was able to map trees in the three wards of Jayanagar, Byrasandra, and Pattabhiramanagar.
“We got an iPad to record the images for the trees. It was considered a milestone in the city’s history and the project made it to the Bengaluru Darshana Book, which is an in-depth compilation tracing the city’s origins right from the ninth century,” says Vijay
Today, the website gives you a picture of medium and large trees that are denoted with an icon of a green tree, saplings are marked as yellow trees, while free spaces where trees can be planted are marked with orange trees. Apart from GPS data, each tree is photographed and ranked on health, and its thickness and height measured and recorded. And the number of stars denotes the health of the tree. Vruksha also marks free spaces on the map with recommendations on what trees can be planted at different locations.
The website currently shows the data for four wards and one lake from the city. Vruksha has also mapped and listed endemic and exotic species found in the city. There are currently 85 different species that are listed on the website.
In the past couple of years, the team has been trying to incorporate a timeline of the trees planted and mapped. According to Vijay, it would take a team of 10 people about 18 months to map trees in all the wards of Bengaluru.
Vijay, a tree doctor, came to an understanding that trees are also living beings and they have a heart and mind of their own. He noticed that trees around were undergoing different kinds of stress conditions and were facing accidents due to different manmade activities.
“I began to think of ways to nurse the trees’ health back to life. This was something I taught myself to do. I started by cleaning and nursing the trees that I was mapping. I usually use orange oil or beeswax to stop the infection or to treat the wounds, and most trees recover within a month,” says Vijay.
Vijay one day hopes to establish a tree clinic in the city. He started contemplating the idea of a tree clinic when he came across poisoned trees in the Marathalli region of the city. Usually, people poison the trees with lead or acid in order to kill and cut them down.
Vijay is also an active voice in various citizens’ groups that work for the conservation of trees in the city and state. He has been part of the agitation against the proposed amendment of the Karnataka Tree Preservation Act of 1976, which would have led to illegal felling of trees all over the state. The amendment was aimed at easing approvals needed for farmers to harvest trees.
Conservationists like Vijay and their consistent efforts to gather support against this Bill has reaped its results. Bending to the opposition of the people, the State government announced the withdrawal of the Bill for the proposed amendment earlier this year.