Turning a blind eye to trash might be natural for many, but for Chennai-based environmentalist, Arun Krishnamurthy, watching garbage being dumped in a nearby pond was the impetus to quit his well-paying job at Google and launch an eco-movement that has cleaned and restored at least 93 freshwater bodies across 14 Indian states.
The community-led movement grew into the Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), a non-profit wildlife conservation and habitat restoration group.
Since its inception in 2007, it has removed garbage and harmful botanical species from these lakes and ponds, that are crucial for maintaining the ecological balance of nature.
Krishnamurthy's love for water bodies started much early in life, as he grew up in a neighbourhood surrounded by them. Leaving behind a life of luxury, the noted environmentalist just wanted to see clean lakes with frogs, fish, birds and greenery.
The 32-year-old activist points out that leaving a comfortable job at Google was not difficult for him as he has "never been uncertain about anything that he has done in life. For a cleaner and greener environment, he started making efforts to restore water bodies in Chennai, supported by the local panchayat, and later expanded his efforts to other cities as well. Since then, there has been no looking back for the young environment enthusiast.
"We work very closely with the Centre and State governments. We do not receive any funding but depend on the government for permissions and approvals. There is a positive trend across the country where the administration is keen on encouraging groups such as ours to mobilise the community to revive freshwater lakes and ponds," Krishnamurthy told IANS in an email interview.
Inspired by his work, people from school-goers to environment conservation veterans, volunteer with the EFI which calls upon people to join their initiative with the slogan -- "Volunteer for India and her Environment with EFI". The organisation has been successful in clearing trash, invasive weeds, and strengthening the bunds in several water bodies including the Egatoor pond in Chennai, the Kinathukadavu system ponds, Pei Kulam at Tuticorin and others.
To make the restoration efforts fun and engaging for kids, EFI started a unique project called 'Cyclakes' which are weekend-based cycle tours to lakes and habitats for children to understand the intrinsic characteristics of these natural wonders. It is for those who wish to combine their fitness programs with a passion for the environment.
Another creative and interactive initiative is 'Wall-E' - an awareness wall painting initiative whereby volunteers paint the public walls with information on biodiversity to popularise India's wildlife and natural habitats.
As awareness is growing, more and more people and organisations are supporting the initiative. Apart from guidance from the government, their efforts are supported by partner organisations including The Hinduja Foundation, The Murugappa Group, Shriram Group, among others, through funds and volunteers.
Krishnamurthy's lake restoration efforts also won him The Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2012 which supports individuals with innovative projects that improve life on the planet, expand knowledge, propose solutions to major challenges, or preserve the natural and cultural heritage for future generations.
To human being's ability to ruin and destroy the environment at an exponential rate, he had earlier asked: "Have we lost the 'human' in the 'being'?"
Making people aware of and educating them about the importance of natural water bodies proved to be the toughest for the activist. "Convincing the local community in understanding the need for conserving the freshwater body is an interesting piece of this bigger puzzle. Once we have the local community involved, we then do not have to worry about the water body. All problems related to pollution, encroachments etc can be thus sorted out," he said.
In a message to everyone to conserve the natural beauty, Krishnamurthy said: "India's environment is fascinating, we need to learn to understand our nation's natural history and start working towards real-time conservation of the same."Making an impact in cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Pune, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Puducherry, Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru, Tirunelveli and Ahmedabad, the EFI is currently working on 39 active projects. It will soon start full-time operations in Vijayawada, Mysuru and Kanyakumari.