Celebrated Indian Forest Service officer (retired) SG Neginal, the man who is credited with making Bengaluru the famed Garden City, passed away on Sunday morning in Bengaluru. Neginal, who had turned 93 only on Saturday, had contracted the coronavirus. He is survived by his four daughters and son.
His tireless work and visionary leadership lives on in the green cover across old Bengaluru, which continues to exist despite road expansion and flyover projects. In 1981, then Chief Minister R Gundu Rao wanted a forest officer who would prioritise greenery in the city, and found a solution in Neginal.
Then Chief Minister R Gundu Rao was looking for a forest officer to lead the mission of greening Bengaluru as he felt the rapid increase in expansion of roads was ruining the cityâ€™s vanishing green cover.
â€śBecause of the lakhs of trees that were planted under Neginalâ€™s leadership, Bengaluru Urban Division was given the prestigious Indira Priyadarshini Vriksha Mitra Award by the Government of India,â€ť Punati Sridhar, IFS, who recently retired as the chief of the department in Karnataka, said,
â€śOther than his stellar work as a department officer, he authored very good books on flowering plants and urban forestry during his retirement. Till his last days, he remained a committed forester. He was also one of the founding members of the Indian Bamboo Society. He was always generous with advice and he would talk to me regularly about what can be done where,â€ť he added.
Neginal served as the Deputy Conservator of Forests in Bengaluru between 1982 and 1987. Among other postings throughout his career, he served as the chief of the Bandipur Tiger Conservation Project. In his retirement years, he authored several books on urban forestry and also took interest in wildlife photography.
In 2017, Neginal was conferred with the TNA Perumal Memorial National Photography Award. He was also asked by late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to beautify the memorial of Indira Gandhi in New Delhi.
It is his involvement with the neighbourhoods of Bengaluru that built the connection between trees and people here, and this has impacted present-day environmental activism in the city.
In an interview with Better India in 2019, Neginal said, â€śThe departments were conducting the plantation drivers themselves, and the red-tapism in the system was an inherent roadblock. I felt that public involvement could resolve the situation, so I visited almost every locality and tried to build a sense of community ownership amidst the people. We gave away saplings to them, who took it upon themselves as a challenge to take care of them. More than a challenge, I feel it was like a race!â€ť
He added, â€śWe would give away saplings for free, and also involve the CM, MLAs, teachers and school students in the plantation process. I also brought in the concept of tree wardens to popularise tree planting and appointed close to 350 volunteers who would keep a tab on the trees in their areas.â€ť
Upon Neginalâ€™s passing, noted lawyer and activist Leo Saldahana took to Twitter and hailed him as the man who greened not only Bengaluru, along with much of Karnataka, but even Delhi. He said, â€śWe will strive even more to save trees you (he) raised, from being felled by recklessness, inhumanity & avarice.â€ť
â€śThe Karnataka Forest Department should name Handigondi Forest after Neginhal & turn that into a biodiversity heritage site open to natural history education and bouldering,â€ť he added.
The man who greened Bangalore, and much of Karnataka, and also Delhi, is no more. None of us knew he was unwell and hospitalised.â€” Leo Saldanha (@leofsaldanha) May 2, 2021
RIP Seturam Neginhal, IFS (Retd). We will strive even more to save trees you raised, from being felled by recklessness, inhumanity & avarice. pic.twitter.com/a4nZkA5zzi
Vijay Nishanth, an urban conservationist based in Bengaluru said, â€śBengaluru is a green city today because of Neginal sir. We will always remember his encouragement and support to young volunteers and the affection he showered on me.â€ť
Dipika Bajpai, a Karnataka-cadre IFS officer of the 2010 batch, serving as the District Conservator of Forests, Bengaluru termed his passing as a loss to the forest fraternity. She said, â€śHe was a forester greatly revered for his greening initiatives in Bengaluru.â€ť