"I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."
31-year-old A.V. Praveen from Mandya, Arekere Grama, was once a wanted criminal, notorious across almost all police stations in Bengaluru for 14 cases of robberies and 15 others of chain-snatching. Today, however, he is one of the key coordinators of a project, working to give life back to river Vedavathi and the region. With expert ease, he can now take you through the dense forests of Chikmagalur to show you how percolation to increase groundwater levels is the key to the project’s success.
However, this story is not about Praveen. This story is about the man who shaped Praveen into the man he is today. At a workshop for delinquents, Praveen met a man called Nagaraj Gangolli, and that encounter went on to change his life for the greater good.
From assembling parts of HMT wristwatches to reforming prisoners and rowdy sheeters to working with farmers for giving them a decent standard of living, Nagaraj Gangolli has been quietly fighting a war to make lives better on all fronts. His attempt to help farmers led him to work in reviving two rivers in Karnataka: Vedavathi and Kumudvathi, which hold the promise of solving Bangalore’s water scarcity in the future.
At 15, Nagaraj faced the wrath of his family for hanging out with a ‘Harijan’. But that did not change his approach towards life.
A former wristwatch assembler for HMT Watches, Nagaraj, like the timepieces he once adopted as his mainstay, approaches life with confidence and perseverance. Today, he confidently states that his work in rejuvenating rivers in Karnataka is likely to end the century-old Cauvery water dispute with neighbouring Tamil Nadu, two years from now.
However, by 2004, Nagaraj was a full-time instructor with The Art of Living, teaching meditation and life tools for a happier and stress-free for various people and communities — from Dalit communities to cops, even hardened criminals and pencil-pushing state bureaucrats who initially refused to associate with any of it. Thanks to the various projects spearheaded by Nagaraj in slums, jails, and villages, thousands of people have reclaimed their life with renewed self-esteem, dignity and honesty. Praveen, for instance, now leads a respectable life and has also earned much appreciation from police personnel, including Inspector General of Police (IGP) Alok Kumar, for improved behaviour.
Despite facing a lot of difficulties to get funds for his projects, he did not give up. He found out about the Government of India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (NREGA) scheme that is a legislative mandate for the government to fund important and locally relevant infrastructure projects. Under the Act, the Government also provides an employment guarantee to the locals.
But the watershed moment, literally and figuratively, came in 2011 when he worked on a small project in helping 100 odd farming families in Lakshmipura village in his home district to improve their access to groundwater, raising the level from 350 ft to 80 ft. He had witnessed how the challenge of water scarcity can be solved on a permanent and sustainable basis by taking a scientific approach to the problem. He would later find that even when monsoons fail to deliver the annual promise, water scarcity can be resolved. This lesson came three years later when he started work on the Vedavathi basin project under the River Rejuvenation Project of Art Of Living. Even with nearly a third of the regular monsoon rains received that year, the parts where the project was implemented, saw groundwater rise from 700-1200 ft to 100-150 ft. With this success, he began working on phase two of the project which now covers 1,097 villages, 24 village panchayats and 25 lakh people.
During his travel through the interiors of Karnataka, Nagaraj saw that scores of villages had the same story of water woes. Despite a good rainfall of 3000-4000 mm, there was acute water shortage everywhere. Rivers, ponds and borewells had dried up.
When he found that water in Chikmagalur had very high fluoride content and was not fit for drinking, Nagaraj had a meeting with the village leaders and the youth, who rallied around him to clean up the village ponds and store rainwater. This clean water was further routed to percolation pits through pipes. 20 new ponds were created, as a result of which the groundwater level came up naturally. Nearly 8,000 litres of water that was being wasted daily is now used to recharge groundwater and keep the water table high.
Community participation by individuals and governing bodies (gram panchayat and gram sabha) has not only provided an easy solution to complex problems but also empowered villagers. The success of the project has inspired government officials to learn this cost-effective technique and implement the same in other parts of Chikmagalur.
Currently, Nagaraj is busy with a mammoth river revival project being carried out with the help of environmentalists, watershed experts, villagers and Art of Living volunteers in the Kumudvathi river basin. The Kumudvathi river that once supplied water to 276 villages and a major portion of Bangalore city has been slowly dying due to massive deforestation, eucalyptus plantation, sand mining and other side effects of rapid urbanization.
Staying anchored in the spiritual wisdom of his Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has given Nagaraj the strength and steadiness to keep moving ahead. “I keep three things taught by Sri Sri in my heart. First, see the body as an instrument of the Divine to serve others. I have already donated my organs to a hospital. Second, don’t expect anything from anyone, and third, accept people and situations as they are,” Nagaraj said in a conversation with The Logical Indian.
As part of river rejuvenation work, Nagaraj is currently working in reviving tributaries in Malaprabha and Tungabhadra catchment areas, covering 122 panchayats and 317 villages in Gadag district.
The Logical Indian appreciates Nagaraj Gangolli for his honest effort to change society for the better.
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