As urbanisation and modern structures have taken over Greater Noida, wetlands are being encroached upon and deteriorating.Ramveer Tanwar, an engineer who gave up a cushy job to work on reviving wetlands in his home region, has revived atleast 20 ponds and lakes in Noida and Greater Noida region.His work has brought the spotlight on important wetlands like the Surajpur wetland in rapidly urbanising Gautam Buddha Nagar which has now caught the district administration’s attention too.Reviving wetlands, specially urban wetlands, is an important step towards water security. Drying up of waterbodies can worsen the water crisis and with vanishing wetlands, the allied biodiversity could disappear too. Every day after returning from school, young Ramveer Tanwar would quickly eat his lunch, pick up his school books and take a herd of cattle for grazing. While the livestock munched on the grass, Tanwar sat beside the village pond and leisurely finished his homework, soaking in the scenic view. Soon the childhood activity became a passion, and ponds an integral part of his life. But over time, as Tanwar completed his Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2014, urbanisation and the growing population had taken over the water bodies of his native village Dadha in Greater Noida. Once brimming with farmers and farmlands, the planned satellite city in the National Capital Region is now standing tall with its modern skyscrapers, booming real estate and shrinking space for nature. Losing his “most cherished childhood memory” made Tanwar take a hard look at the larger issue of disappearing inland wetlands including ponds and lakes, and the growing water crisis across India. So, he started a campaign on water conservation in his village, which was already facing a dwindling water table. Flushed with the success of the drive and people’s support and participation, Tanwar, an engineer, became a full-time conservationist in 2016. “We think of ponds and lakes as places of beauty and repose. And picture them as clean waterbodies surrounded with lush greenery, refreshing cool breeze and myriad birds humming beautiful tunes. Sadly, the reality is different. Across the country, wetlands have either been encroached upon for construction or turned into dumping grounds or simply left to fade away with neglect,” says Tanwar, who is currently reviving a pond in Chauganpur village in Gautam Budhha Nagar that houses the twin cities of Noida and Greater Noida. In total, so far, the 26-year-old has resuscitated at least 20 ponds and lakes, a majority of which are in this district. Ramveer Tanwar (left) cleaning the pond at Azampur Garhi village. Photo from Ramveer Tanwar. Awareness the first step towards protection Take a walk on the shoreline of a pond or lake, and you will realise what Tanwar means about the state of wetlands. Strewn with green and clear plastic bottles of a dozen sizes, polythene bags, a child’s broken plastic helicopter, dismembered toys, Styrofoam glasses, chips wrappers, used condoms, milk packets, torn clothes, diapers, a taut old shoe, and stretched nylon socks – it gets uglier and fetid with each step. This unsavory scene reminds one of Pablo Picasso’s anti-war painting Guernica which displays scattered dead bodies and severed limbs. But unlike the corpses, the garbage in these water bodies is not going to decompose – organic material decomposes comparatively faster than wood, which takes three months, a plastic bag which could take over 20 years and a plastic bottle, more than 700 years. “When we revive a pond or lake, three things dominate our mind – nature, heritage and groundwater. But to achieve success, you first have to wade through people’s mindset, plastics and construction garbage,” said Tanwar in Hindi, adding that for every acre of pond and lake space, he and his team clean almost three quintals of plastic as well as other waste. Before starting to revive the water body, Tanwar and team start an awareness campaign in the vicinity about the relevance of conservation and its impact on people’s lives. The idea is to make locals part of the transformation process and face relatively less resistance to rejuvenating the water body. Ramveer Tanwar conducting a wetland awareness campaign at Mirpur village. Photo from Ramveer Tanwar. “I remember, once we were working in Ghanghola village in Gautam Budhha Nagar. After what looked like a successful awareness drive, when we started work on the water body, people turned hostile. They started pelting stones on the machines and our vehicles. They were angry and doubtful about why we were so interested in their dirty water reservoir. So, another round of conversations and convincing people had to be done before restarting the work and this shows how the mindset of people is a key factor in preserving the eco-system,” said Rohit Adhana, part of Tanwar’s team. On the home front too, these wetland warriors were fighting a battle – changing the mindset of parents regarding their career choice. Both Tanwar and Adhana had left their cushy jobs and taken up conservation as a career. “In my family, I am the first person to study beyond high school. So, when I quit my job the whole house was consumed with sadness and agony,” recalled Tanwar. “Things have changed over the years after they saw the impact. Life has come a full circle – from nut-bolts to nature, from wrenches to wetlands,” he grinned. For Adhana too it took constant effort to change his parents’ mindset. “Now my parents realise the importance of the work we do,” he said.