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It all started with plans for an elevated expressway that would have obliterated the fishing village of Urur Olcott Kuppam in Chennai. To save his village, Saravanan K., a fisherman turned coastal protection activist, began filing applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. “I realized the government had classified the beach on which we do our work as ‘wasteland’," he says.

Many RTIs later, Saravanan united the fishing villages and homeowners, and got the plans dropped. That fight taught him the need for maps to document how fishing communities use land and how the coast is changing. Over the past six years, he’s mapped 40 villages in four districts of Tamil Nadu, and aims to cover the state’s 600-odd coastal villages. He combines technology, information from Google Maps, government records and historical data. “The meetings also make people aware of their rights, and about climate change," says Saravanan, 35.

To him, Gandhi was an exemplary planner. “He never started on a path without a goal. I like that about him, his pucca planning," says Saravanan, who considers his Class X teacher, Purnima, and environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman as role models.

Saravanan’s efforts at community building extend beyond his village. Since 2015, he’s helped organize the Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha, a community-based and volunteer-run arts and culture festival. One of its prominent volunteers is Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna. “I love what I do. More than strength, you need love for this work. You have to win people over to make them understand the problem," he says.

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