On a mission to clean up lakes

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Tejdeep Kaur Menon along with TSSPF personnel participates in a cleanup drive at Ameenpur Lake.

When four likeminded individuals with a common interest in sighting rare bird species got together to create the group Hyderabad Birding Pals (HBP) in 2014, little did they realise that their small group would soon snowball into a 3000-member strong movement towards conservation of environment.

Founded by Rajeev Khandelwal, Harikrishna Adepu, Kalyan Ineni and P Krishna Raavi, the Hyderabad Birding Pals have managed to save a good number of lakes with continuous awareness, conservation and cleanup drives.

“The initial idea was to spot different birds at the birding hotspots, but we decided to take constructive action a year later when we saw the declining number of bird species due to increasing waste generation at lakes and environmental degradation,” recalls Rajeev Khandelwal, an entrepreneur and physical therapist. The group which meets every Sunday heads to different birding hotspots armed with telephoto lens, recording and exchanging their notes. Members come from all walks of life, from lawyers, entrepreneurs, doctors, students to even Tollywood celebrities and cricketers. “We promote carpooling as it not only saves fuel but also helps people network,” adds Rajeev.

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Members of HBP.

Starting with Ameenpur Lake, which is home to more than 150 residential bird species and migratory birds that breed here during winter, HBP began small cleanup drives around the lake in 2015. In order to get access to governmental bodies, the group also registered an NGO called Friends of Flora and Fauna in 2015. Their efforts eventually caught the attention of Tejdeep Kaur Menon, director general, Telangana State Special Protection Force (TSSPF), who joined them in their initiative. With her coming onboard, the group supported by concerned citizens and other government bodies removed garbage, which included all kinds of plastic waste, footwear, glass bottles, used clothes from the periphery of the lake. “ Now the Ameenpur Lake is the first water body to be declared a Biodiversity Heritage Site in the country. We are doing similar drives at Fox Sagar Lake and Ananthagiri Hills, Vikarabad currently,” adds Harikrishna Adepu of HBP.

According to their estimates, the drives helped bring back the decreasing number of bird species from 170 (in 2014) to the current figure of 290. “One can spot painted stork, Indian robin, grey heron, red wattled lapwing, little egret, black winged stilt, Indian silver bill, red vented bulbul and river terns at Ameenpur,” says Harikrishna. Among the other birding hotspots are Osman Sagar lake, Himayatsagar lake and Manjeera dam.

The main issue that faces these conservationists is the lack of awareness and apathy towards the environment. “Clean up drives do help but it’s an ongoing process. Unauthorised occupation of the lake bed, flow of domestic sewage and industrial effluents are the challenges for us. A lot of youngsters drink and break the bottles also. Picking up those glass shards is another big task. Go and drink but dispose it off in the right place. No matter how much we clean, people still throw a lot of garbage. They don’t realise how the birds and animals get affected; after all they are indicators of what’s happening in the environment,” explains Rajeev, adding, “Ganesh idol immersions is another big issue, we have removed hundreds of POP idols from Ameenpur lake. It doesn’t help that people want bigger idols these days which is exacerbating the problem.”

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To help create awareness, the group regularly conducts programmes in schools. “We tell the children about the different bird species, the ill effects of littering near lakes with colourful diagrams so they understand. So far, we have done a photo exhibition in Nasr school helped by Tejdeep maam, St Joseph’s School, Little Flower School and government schools around Ameenpur,” states Harikrishna. Interestingly, he goes on to add that they have seen a change in their members too. “Since we start really early in the morning, we buy snacks on the way.

Earlier, some members would throw the wrappers on the road, instead of telling them, we used to pick it up and put it in our pockets to dispose off later in dust bins. But now everyone takes care not to litter. Lead by example, they say, right,” adds Harikrishna.