Bengaluru is fondly called the Garden City of India. But did you know that in 1981 the city was struggling to save its green colour?
With new housing layouts coming up and old trees being cut, Bangalore was getting barren with each passing day.
Worried by the disappearing tree cover, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka, Gundu Rao, approached one man who he thought could save the trees. That man was Seturam Gopalrao Neginhal, popularly called SG Neginhal, a dedicated forest officer who was known for his tremendous success in preserving many nature reserves in the country.
Neginhal was assigned the task of bringing green spaces back to the city and he left his work in Thirthahalli and shifted to Bengaluru.
“When I first reached here, I thought the condition was hopeless. I spent a lot of time researching the reasons behind the dying plants,” recalls the now 89-year-old Neginhal, who still has the same energy and passion for trees when he talks about his work.
Neginhal’s research showed that there were several flaws in the way trees were planted and maintained in Bangalore then. The saplings were very small and took a long time to grow. Even the tree guards were tiny and stray animals would often eat the leaves of the new plants.
“The biggest issue was that the government was not involving the public in their initiatives. They would plant the trees and forget about them. There was no proper maintenance. If we had to sustain these trees we had to involve the citizens,” he says.
Neginhal then came up with a master plan. He created over 6 crore saplings in 15 nurseries, using a special technique and soil composition to make the plants grow faster.
He started planting bigger saplings. To avoid any damage caused by animals or irresponsible citizens, he also changed the design of the tree guards. Earlier, a tree guard would be 4 ft long and cost around Rs. 650 per unit. Neginhal came up with a cheaper option where he managed to create a 6.5 ft long tree guard at just Rs. 22.50 per unit.
“We saved a lot of money this way. The next step was to involve the public. We guided them on how to go about planting trees and got college students to participate. The media also played an important role in spreading awareness,” he says.
To make the task of planting trees more affordable and accessible, Neginhal created several tree banks at different locations in the city. Here, people could just walk in and take as many plants as they wanted free of cost and plant them in the city.
They were also given a choice as to the species of trees they wanted in front of their homes. “I thought if the tree is of their choice, they will take better care of it,” he says.
Neginhal then appointed a few volunteers who would go around the city and give him feedback on the condition of the trees. If a plant looked like it was about to die, immediate action was taken to either replace it or revive it. He also supported many NGOs who expressed their desire to be part of the greening of Bengaluru.
The team faced several challenges too — like carelessness by people and invasions by stray animals that would trample on or destroy saplings. “We used to work from 7 in the morning to 7 in the night without a break. It was exhausting. But if we wanted to see results, we had no other option,” he says.
Neginhal recalls the busy Anand Rao Circle area of Bengaluru, which used to witness heavy traffic till late night. It was extremely difficult to plant trees there during the daytime. Neginhal and his team would then wait till about two in the night and start digging and planting when the roads were empty. Next morning, when people saw many of plants on the roadside, they were pleasantly surprised with this overnight development. “I don’t think I have planted trees at the midnight ever before,” he recalls.
In a span of just five years (1982-1987), Neginhal planted over 1.5 million trees in Bangalore with a success rate of 100 percent.
His efforts were so tremendous that an urban forestry plan was included in a five-year-plan by the central government.
“The quality of the trees was so good that even ministers from Delhi came down and picked up trees from Bangalore,” says a proud Neginhal.
Neginhal has written several books on the subject of tree plantation to help people understand urban forestry better. One of his books contains photos and details of over 150 species of trees. Here is a list of all the books written by him.
Neginhal’s work and books have been an inspiration for many who are trying to save the green cover.
“Neginhal’s books have helped us find out crucial native plant species of Karnataka. He guided us to conduct forest surveys and afforestation projects in Hubli,” says Shubhendu Sharma, founder, Afforestt, a company specialising in creating natural, wild, maintenance free, native forests.
The success story of Bangalore’s urban forestry project has today become an ideal case study for other cities in India to emulate as well.
To know more about Neginhal’s work, contact him at- firstname.lastname@example.org