Please tell us about yourself
Vivek Vishwasrao, head, biodiversity at Tata Power, is among the lucky few who have turned their hobbies and passions into their professions
Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love, said Rumi, the famous 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. Vivek Vishwasrao, head, biodiversity at Tata Power, has done just that – made a career out of his passion and calling in life – in order to be amidst nature and help preserve it!
Vivek wears many hats and drives the company’s four decade long effort to conserve the natural resources in and around its Walwhan dam hydro power plant in Lonavala, close to Mumbai. His role also involves planning and implementation of afforestation programmes, conducting environment education programmes for school and college students, engaging in various CSR activities, maintaining a gene bank and nursery of indigenous plants found in the North Western Ghats, which is one of the important biodiversity hot spots of the world, as well as managing the Mahseer conservation project.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
Vivek’s love for nature and the environment was ignited as a young boy growing up in Koregaon Park in Pune amidst a lot of greenery in his backyard and the neighbourhood. He imbibed his parents’ love for gardening — they grew their own vegetables and flowers in the garden around the house. He also recalls enjoying fishing trips with his friends and treating injured birds and dogs.
No wonder then that Vivek went on to complete his MSc in agriculture with a specialisation in horticulture. He has also undertaken courses in ornithology, pisciculture (study of fishes), apiculture (study of bees) and poultry management as well as mushroom cultivation. “My university offered me a teaching job but since I was interested in field work, I applied to the Tata group and was lucky to get in,” he says. Vivek joined Tata Power, then the Tata Electric Company, in September 1986.
What do you love about your job
Visit him at his beautiful office amidst lush green plants and beautiful flowers at the Walwhan dam garden and he is quick to point out and identify the songs and chirps of the birds in the area – the Koel, Malabar Whistling Thrush or the Barbet, or show you a bird’s nest with young fledglings in it, which his keen eye has spotted. He is also extremely knowledgeable about various indigenous plants known for their medicinal properties.
With nature as his office and the whispering of the birds his alarm clock, Vivek thoroughly enjoys his job at Tata Power – which is not without its share of adventures. He recalls his first day at work when he was handed over the keys to his office inside the garden. Much to his shock and amazement he was greeted by a huge cobra when he opened the doors!
Tell us about your work
Vivek has also authored two books on the birds of Lonavala and Khandala, and wild orchids of the North Western Ghats. Vivek has his hands full each day as he juggles the many tasks that he manages, from site visits to conducting volunteering programmes on conservation, to educating young students and other groups and taking them on a tour of the gardens. He also interacts closely with his co-workers as well as the locals and acts as a public relations officer for the company. He has also undertaken and studied the aqua diversity of all Tata Power’s lakes in the area. Nature is his teacher, he says, and what he loves about his job is to witness the growth of a plant from a seed and the interconnectedness of all creatures.
One important aspect that he has learned from his job with the Tatas is the importance of giving back to the community. “I am involved in several CSR activities including medical camps, and also agriculture and tree plantation programmes,” he says. Vivek is happy that he also got an opportunity to volunteer for the Lifeline Express hospital on wheels by Impact India. “All these experiences made me appreciate the values of life,” he adds.
During the course of his career with the Tata group, Vivek has had the privilege of interacting with several senior Tata leaders like JRD Tata, Naval Tata and Ratan Tata – all of who have always appreciated and encouraged him. “A free hand to work, trust, faith and a pat on the back is always a great encouragement for an employee,” says Vivek. He is happy that he has been able to turn his hobby and passion into his profession, and he enjoys and cherishes each and every day here. “The fragrance of the various flowers, the whispers of the birds, the feel of the lawns, the rhythm of the cascading waterfalls, the various sounds of nature, all are very fascinating for me. For me, my workplace is my joy,” he says.
Vivek hopes that people learn to appreciate and value nature, and take care of their natural surroundings so as to leave a better planet for future generations.
How does your work benefit the community?
The cloudburst of June 2013 brought much devastation to Uttarakhand in north India. Thousands of people perished in mudslides as rivers burst their banks and swept away everything in their path. The impact of the floods on life and property is felt to this day, and the ecological shock on flora and fauna is still being calculated. Amid this tragedy, freshwater fish, which were already threatened by habitat loss, have become rarer to find. And one of the biggest casualties of both human callousness and natural disaster is the mahseer, of the genus Tor.
Tata Power commissioned its first power station at Bhivpuri in the nearby Raigad district, a hundred years ago. It now generates 350 MW of power from six dams that supply the power-houses with water. And one of the company’s enduring gifts to the region is the hatchery, located right next to Walwan, an artificial dam built over the Kundali and Indrayani rivers. It has the biggest breeding stock of mahseer in India, and produces four to five lakh mahseer seed every year. With its penchant for fresh, running water, the mahseer is a very difficult fish to breed in captivity. After experimenting with various techniques, experts at the Walwan hatchery have been able to breed two species: The Deccan mahseer and the golden mahseer.
Vishwasrao runs the mahseer project in the Walwan hatchery. He will ensure that the fingerlings are specially packed in polythene bags with enough oxygen so that they survive the 24-hour journey by air and road to Uttarakhand.
Tata Power’s mahseer project dates back to 1975, making it the longest running conservation efforts by a private corporation in India which is aimed at preserving a single species. The company operates in seven lakes in the region and also controls catchment areas in the surrounding hills from where rainwater collects in reservoirs. “This makes us ideally suited to breed the fish,” says Vishwasrao, who is leading studies to record biodiversity in the region.
Tata Power decided to start the mahseer project after it was approached by the state fisheries department in the late 1960s to help save the endangered fish. “The project has survived for so many years because it falls in the framework of the company’s focus on sustainability. It is not seen as a CSR [corporate social responsibility] effort,’’ says Anil Sardana, managing director and chief executive officer, Tata Power. (The company is celebrating its centenary year in 2015.)
Tata Power is one of the few Indian companies to have a department of biodiversity, which, apart from the mahseer breeding programme, is involved in efforts like afforestation, conservation and other such initiatives. So far, the company has published four books on birdlife, wild orchids, amphibians and reptiles and scorpions and spiders, in collaboration with the Pune-based nature conservation and education NGO, Ela Foundation. Tata Power executives credit the emphasis on sustainability to the vision of the founders.