Ophthalmologist Prahalathan Karunakaran looks beyond his busy profession for fulfilment: he is passionate about social causes and Bhumi the NGO he founded is active across the country, writes Vipasha Sinha

Most people complain about what is wrong with the world, but never really do anything about it. Dr Prahalathan Karunakaran, an ophthalmologist living on Cenotaph Road, does not waste his energy about negatives but takes positive action to change them.

For instance, when he saw the need for quality education for underprivileged children, he started Bhumi. It is now one of India’s largest independent youth volunteer non-profit organisations and it recently won the ‘Leader in Volunteer Engagement Award 2013’ at the iVolunteer Awards ceremony held in Mumbai.

When an auto driver tried to fleece him, he filed an online petition at change.org, instead of ranting about it. His efforts played a crucial role in the city getting regulated auto fares.

The campaign did not end after that; he has now filed another petition on the same website demanding fixed auto fares across Tamil Nadu. He has also filed a petition asking the Corporation for a comprehensive programme to clean up all the beaches.

Dr. Prahalathan is an ophthalmologist working in a leading eye hospital. While he spends eight hours at work, he dedicates the rest of his day to community services. People with his kind of job mostly do not engage in social action. He says he learnt to be socially responsible from his parents. It if from them he learn that life goes beyond a 9-5 job. “My father was a member of the Lion’s Club and as a kid, I remember accompanying him to various blood donation drives and other social events. My mother taught in an evening school. No one asked me to take up social causes; it was obvious to me that I had to,” says Dr Prahalathan, who was the in-charge of the Blood Donor’s Club in his College.

After finishing college, he along with his friends, decided to educate the underprivileged. “There was no specific reason to choose education. We started in 2006 in a small way and now have more than 1000 volunteers providing quality supplementary education to orphaned and underprivileged children in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, New Delhi and several other parts of the country. Over 12,000 children benefit through this, every year,” says Dr. Prahalathan, whose wife is one of the first volunteers of Bhumi. He manages the show from his office-cum residence at Cenotaph Road.

It was one of the volunteers of Bhumi who told him about change.org, an online platform that allows people to file complaints and petitions and also gather support. Rattled by the unreasonable and unregulated auto fares, he filed a petition two years ago.

“I did not expect this kind of a response. Not just Bhumi volunteers but the public and media also encouraged us. It did not end up with just filing the petition. I had to pay several visits to the Transport Minister and Transport commissioner. During this time, I met advocate S. V. Ramamurthy, who finally won the legal battle to ensure that Chennai commuters did not have to suffer any more,” he says.

Dr. Prahalathan was also invited by the Transport Minister along with members of other NGOs, public and auto drivers in August 2013 to discuss auto-fares.

“When I had met the Minister for the first time, he said he was aware of the petition. The meeting went well and was a sign of the change that the city was about to see,” he says.

He is now hoping to see action being taken on the other petitions he has filed.

Bhumi has reached three other cities – Kolkatta, Hyderabad and Coimbatore. He wants it to spread its wings wider across India.