The conservationist and tree saver

Former chief justice MN Venkatachaliah once jokingly said in a gathering, “To think of Vijay Nishanth just as a tree lover is incomplete. Seeing his love for the woody perennials I strongly feel he must have been a beautiful tree in his previous birth. He is an urban conservationist who can hear the language of trees.”

In one exceptionally horrifying case a few years ago in Marathalli, someone had poisoned 17 trees that were blocking two hoardings. “The trees burned for 20 days before 14 of them succumbed. I was so speechless seeing them suffer, all I could do was shed tears silently at home,” says Vijay going emotional, although he managed to rejuvenate three of them. And what was his healing therapy? The first aid includes removing the poison by scrapping away the charred parts and applies a liquid bandage of beeswax and orange oil on their trunks. Vijay later celebrated rakhi with the ‘survivors’ last year.

Rampant illegal cutting, diseases and pollution-related stress that make trees sick and weak become Vijay’s patients. “Want to know the number of trees that I have saved? Even on a conservative estimate it would be around 1.5 lakh in the last 20 years amongst which I have transplanted nearly 250 until now,” says Vijay better known as Bengaluru’s Tree Doctor. Vijay shows photos of the before-and-after photos of sidewalks transformed by newly planted trees, and poisoned trees he’s brought back to life in several areas of the city.

Vijay believes every tree is valuable. Showing photos of some of the oldest trees at Bannerghatta Road that looked battered, he says, people are heartless, they drill holes and cause pain. Look at their withered innards and decades-old trunk shrinking with blows. Age, weather and human neglect are the reasons they don’t live even half their age. How can I keep quiet, I have to save crores of trees in my lifetime. That’s the best gift I can give to mankind,” he says.

Vijay who lost his parents even as a toddler grew up at Child Fun Association, a children’s home in Jayanagar. Mary Isaacs, the octogenarian who brought up Vijay moulded him to have a ‘complete personality’ as Vijay puts it. She even nudged him “to follow his dreams” when he wanted to step out of the engineering domain at BNMIT college in 2003. This helped him become an urban conservationist and animal rights activist who was used to identifying trees and picking up their fruits in his childhood.

Vijay worked as a volunteer for almost a decade at the Forest Cell of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). That’s when he saw trees being cut off across Bengaluru and the worst was, there was no account of the number of trees being chopped. One day he said “how can we go on without having a track of it?”

Vijay gradually understood the need for a tracking mechanism to be in place. He quit engineering and joined a friend’s company when he got the time to concentrate on environmental issues. “I worked with a software company, which was into mapping houses. But I decided to use my friend S Shariff’s knowledge at the software company who developed an App that could help in the documentation process. I applied his ideas to track the trees that are being chopped through for an online tree-mapping start-up,” he says. Vijay received financial assistance from Ravi Kumar, another co-founder.

Concurrently when Bengaluru was being transformed from a garden city to lap up brick and mortar he wanted to learn more about the know-how on healing trees. His mentorship with Harini Nagendra, an author and one of the city’s foremost tree experts, at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (Atree) helped him slide into the subject with more domain knowledge in 2011.

“We are too happy that Vruksha has completed 10 years now,” says Vijay who along with his friends initially tagged 115 trees in Jayanagar ward. They recorded and documented all the trees assessing them on the parameters of species, health condition, and height.

The Vruksha team mapped trees in Jayanagar, Byrasandra, and Pattabhiramanagar. The team recorded the images of trees on iPad. On the website, apart from pictures that denote every kind of tree recorded, also recommends the options that can be planted on free spaces at different locations. The website also carries a list of endemic and exotic tree species.

Transplantations the key

According to the Karnataka Tree Preservation Act its not only planting and maintaining, but transplanting them which is key to conservation, says Vijay. While the tree man is the local hero, his transplanting work has extended to Hampi, Mysore, Nanjangud, Madhya Pradesh amongst other cities. “Not all species of trees can be transplanted. Mainly about 25 species are the best in the range and that includes Ficus, Peepal, Pongamia, Coppor Pod, Desi Badam, Behandi, and a few varieties of Mango with great difficulty,” says Vijay. To fight fungicides, bacteria and insecticides he uses neem and orange oil, beewax, Honge or Pongamia oil and castor oil apart from a variety of medicated soil depending on a case to case basis.

And on the tree front Vijay is working on recording the sounds of the trees! Elders always said, don’t chop trees, it hurts. So he thought trees should have an inbuilt voice that has to be tracked on record. “So with a special equipment that I imported from Europe called MIDI, I have started a project “Vriksha Dwani” where some trees in Bangalore Palace are being recorded. The equipment picks the electro magnetic variations and converts them into sound and records it for knowing the Dwani or sound,” explains Vijay who has worked on three tress out of the 50 he will take up. He has demonstrated the process to Maharani Pramoda Devi at the Palace.

Only in black

Vijay takes part on Ted talks, speaks to students in schools and colleges, addresses corporate houses and resident welfare associations and reaches out to villagers for advising them on the right plantations according to the demands of soil and climate conditions. As people wait for their ‘tree doctor to arrive” they are shocked to see a young man dressed in black jeans, black T-shirt and a thin black jacket with straight hair flowing over his forehead walking off his Honda Dio scooter. “I am always in black only because any other colour gets dirty as I am always in fields amidst tress,” he laughs.

Social causes

Recently Vijay’s fight against illegal quarrying in the hilly, deciduous forests of the Bannerghatta National Park has come in focus. He fought successfully to reinstate the no-night-traffic rule through Karnataka’s Bandipur forest area. He is also involved in projects to revive the city’s lakes and has volunteered with BBMP’s forest cell to stop illegal poaching and rehabilitate animals. Vijay is also a consultant for the Army at its lush Madras Engineering Group (MEG) campus in the city’s Ulsoor area where he revived 16 trees.

Vijay is also the earliest board member of the city’s high court appointed tree committee. He was part of the crowdfunded transplantation of two large trees — a banyan and a peepal — that were coming in the path of an elevated Metro line at the Bannerghatta Road-Jayadeva busy junction. “I was amongst the team with representatives from the Bangalore Metro, the BBMP’s forest cell, the residents of a building and an infrastructure company. We decided to transplant the two trees to the Arekere lake bed 4-kms away and they are in good health even now,” says Vijay.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 10:08:20 AM |

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