This is not the story of someone who fought against an indifferent system and brought it to its knees, rather of someone who made her peace with the system and worked patiently from within, to achieve the best results possible.
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Manvel Alur’s connection with the environment seems almost karmic, with her choices in life steering her on the green path quite early on. Even as a child growing up in Bangalore, she was environmentally aware enough to write in to the National Geographic magazine on various issues and it seemed like a natural transition that she went on to do her Bachelors and Masters in Environmental Science at St Joseph’s, Bangalore and Aberdeen, Scotland respectively.
Her career portfolio spans close to two decades of impactful work both in India and abroad, before she finally settled down to her current role as a consultant, guiding companies towards green practices. Starting with Equations, an NGO that worked on influencing tourism policies to balance their ecological impact on local communities and from there to TERI (The Energy Research Institute) where she worked on projects related to energy and environment interface issues.
In 1996, she moved to the US and found herself working in a similar role for seven years. Having worked at the grassroots level in India however, work in the US which was mostly at the systemic level, made her feel very disconnected, she recalls.
Moving back to Bangalore in 2002 after a gap of 14 years, Manvel found a vastly changed city, thanks to the meteoric but unplanned growth. Her tryst with community work started when she was asked to volunteer in the BATF (Bangalore Agenda Task Force).
Working with Kalpana Kar and others as part of the Solid Waste Management Group, Manvel spent two years helping research and develop a strategic paper for Bangalore that studied the feasibility of PPP (Private Public Partnerships) in managing solid waste. Unfortunately, despite all the time and effort that went into it, the project was shelved when governments changed.
When she moved to Koramangala in 2004, Manvel was keen to add value to the community. The CDP (Comprehensive Development Plan) was at that point being debated in Bangalore and she was asked to provide inputs on the environmental impact of the CDP by Janagrahaa as part of the public consultation process.
At this point, Manvel started interacting with a Citizens Group in Koramangala that was working on CDP issues and on Koramangala’s civic problems in general. The Koramangala Initiative, headed by extremely committed people such as Major Kapoor (himself a septuagenarian), Sheela Ladha and Vijayan Menon motivated Manvel to get into full-fledged activism in the area.
Some of the initiatives she is currently involved in, along with active citizens of Koramangala, the local people and government representatives, include the resurrection of the 1st Block Park, ongoing efforts on the Mestripalya lake and the ongoing consultations with the government on a more effective solution to the proposed flyovers in Koramangala.
The waste segregation project launched purely on volunteer efforts also bears testimony to the persistence of the team. 50 families in Koramangala 1st block now segregate their waste for collection by BBMP and the numbers are expected to scale up in the coming months. Manvel believes that decentralising waste collection is the only way forward in garbage management.
When I ask her what motivates her to stay on track, she promptly credits the vibrant and positive Koramangala community. Together, they work towards making Koramangala a model community.
On what citizens can do to emulate this she says, ‘firstly, be an active citizen. If you see something wrong, whether it’s as simple as garbage strewn around, strive to do something about it. Secondly, work the system. People are always ready to help, even in govt offices, and you just need to be patient and persevere. Involve the local governing bodies in your efforts, be aware, make prudent use of RTIs and you are on your way to make change, however small or humble it may seem, happen. Be the change you want to see in the world’.