Anand Pendharkar Column: Green surrender

Last Tuesday, I visited one of the greenest districts of Mumbai, Mulund. With no specific purpose, maybe my soul was searching for some green in this fast greying city. Now, my home in Andheri East has a few avenue trees scattered among paver blocked and metalled driveways, but this is nothing compared to a lush, undulating garden with trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers, waterbodies, benches and walking paths. And Mulund is full of them.

Japanese garden at Byculla zoo
Japanese garden at Byculla zoo

When in Mulund, my friend Jayshree Murali of NGO VIDYA, eagerly showed me around the Mother Teresa Recreation Park tucked away between towers and complexes. The garden staff was already acquainted with her as she has donated a few home-germinated saplings of mango, jamun and papaya to the municipal garden, all planted inside metal tree guards. The garish Bougainvilleas, golden bamboos, cushionlawn, vilayati badam trees and scattered rock gardens gave it a quaint charm. The park also has a walking path with climbers and bushes, and also a few bridges, a kids’ play area and exercise equipment. The park was soothing and just the right dose of relaxation, except the pile of burning leaves and some youth who use the garden for their mid-afternoon booze party. Why go so far away to visit a tiny garden when there are acres of the lush Aarey Milk Colony close to my house? For one, the Aarey gardens are overrun by littering picnickers. To add to that, the MMRC is hell-bent on destroying the bio-diverse Aarey grasslands by constructing a Metro Yard inside. These destructive plans are being legally challenged by environmentalists fighting to prevent the degradation of Mumbai’s flood control zone and carbon sink. The lakes, gardens, grasslands, hills and streams are home to unique and endemic creatures found nowhere else in the world. Sadly, neither do locals nor the government seem to care about Mumbai’s citizens’ right to open and green spaces.

If in the suburbs, Aarey is under threat, in South Mumbai, it’s Hanging Garden. I have spent days here clicking pictures of butterflies and birds like parakeets and koels. Recently, on a night-cycling trip, the Kamla Nehru Park (KNP) steps were our stopover and we even did an impromptu jam-up, with a pair of guitarists practising their chords. Sadly, here too there are plans underway to extend a fast-car road. Many locals seem to be opposing this.

In my childhood, there was a lovely historical garden right in the heart of Mumbai called the Maheshwari Udyan. Today, it is dissected with the pillars of a massive smoke-spewing bridge and has lost all its ambient beauty and historical importance. Our green spaces seem completely excusable and in fact are looked upon as hindrances to development and infrastructure. The Colaba Woods, Maharashtra Nature Park and Azad Maidan are all threatened by unplanned, senseless and unhealthy ideas of development, which will eventually push us into a psychotic mess.

The MbPT Garden (Colaba) along with the Byculla Zoo Campus or Ranibaug or Veermata Jijabai Bhosle Udyan are among my most favourite gardens in Mumbai. Morning walkers, nature enthusiasts, tree and bird watchers, amateur photographers, sketch artists, botany students and senior citizens’ groups, all find solace and amazement in these parks.

But with the recent plans of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to pass a new Recreational Ground/Playgrounds Policy (RGPG) allowing private parties to act as caretakers, will lead to privatising and modifying the land-use of public spaces. This will eventually lead to indefinitely handing over our green spaces to name-sake charitable trusts and NGOs of large corporate houses. If citizens don’t wake up and intervene now, this move will not only exclude the rightful wild residents but also take away the right of public to green spaces — permanently.

Write in to Anand Pendharkar at sproutsonline@gmail.com

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