BENGALURU: The verdant 500-acre patch of the Turahalli forest on the outskirts of the city has had to face the onslaught of urbanisation over the years with dumping of the city’s garbage, littering, encroachment of the forest land and even poaching. But two years ago, a group of women said ‘enough is enough’ and took it upon themselves to bring the forest back to life through a sustained drive to protect and preserve it. Today, the fruits of their efforts are there for all to see.
The forest, situated in the South-Western part of the city, has a hillock, two temples and is home to mongooses, hares and peacocks. It has gained popularity for its cycling and trekking trails which, on the flip side, have also led to increased instances of littering. Residents who stay on the edge of the forest claim the area has become a haven for drinkers, especially at night. In addition, a lot of waste is dumped by the two temples within the forest, and encroachments are rampant.
About two years ago, when trucks would regularly dump garbage inside the forest, five women from the apartment ‘Sobha Forest View’ at the forest’s edge decided they had to do something to clean the forest. To raise funds to buy equipment for cleaning, they collected old newspapers from houses in the apartment complex and sold them — a practice that they still follow. They named themselves #SaveTurahalli, and began a weekly cleanliness drive, where they would collect the garbage and put it outside the forest to be collected by a BBMP vehicle.
Over time, #SaveTurahalli was joined by more members, both residents of the apartment complex including kids, and regular visitors to the forest, and their activities also diversified.
Sowmya Kashyap, one of the five members who started the drive, said, “We have done different things during different seasons. We helped douse forest fires in the summer of 2016, while during the monsoons we planned a ‘Vanamahostsava’ and planted 500 saplings. Recently, we helped douse another fire and undertook a seed ball activity. .”
Sowmya said they would regularly find broken bottles of alcohol and even packets of firecrackers. The garbage would attract dogs, which would chase the peacocks. Chopping of trees and cattle grazing was also rampant. The residents then got in touch with the Forest Department, and they found an ally in Dipika Bajpai, DCF for Bengaluru Urban district.
Padmini Palaparthy, another of the group’s initial members, said earlier they did not have contact with any forest official. But now, every member of the apartment complex has Dipika’s number, and if anyone notices any illegal activity, the officer is informed.
As the residents have become guardians of the forest, Dipika has encouraged them to walk inside it. And their support is essential, she says, as the lack of a compound wall makes it very difficult to control entry of people.
The department has carried out multiple eviction drives within the forest, and has successfully ousted some encroachers. In November 2017, encroachers were evicted from 18 acres of forest land. Dipika says these activities are carried out by a mafia comprising builders and developers. “They commit forgeries and concoct land records in connivance with Revenue officials. And when we try to take action they go to court and get a stay order,” she said.
The DCF said she had tried to procure funds from the department to erect a compound wall or a fence around the forest, but was not able to, and is now looking for CSR funds. In addition, there are only 2-3 staff members who work in shifts to keep a watch on the forest. In such a scenario, the citizens’ assistance has come as a much wanted relief for the department.