mid-day Garden Audit: Sion's Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Udyan in ruins after authorities neglect it
Sion's Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Udyan, a Grade I heritage structure standing since the time of British, is beloved of locals and couples alike, but forgotten by the authorities, pushing it over the edge into the abyss of disrepair
Old, decayed trees, uprooted because of heavy rainfall
Every day, the panoramic views of the city and Thane creek pull hundreds of visitors to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Udyan, which is located at the base of Sion Fort. The notified Grade I Heritage structure built by the British is a much beloved haunt of the area's residents and students too. But now, age is catching up — the garden is losing its charm as authorities haven't done enough to keep its former glory alive.
"This is no ordinary garden; it's a heritage site in the heart of the city. I have been coming here since my childhood, so I am very attached to it. To preserve the garden, authorities need to rebuild the dilapidated portion without threatening the rest of it," said Shilpi Mehta, 58, a resident of Sion.
Broken steps are some of the problems plaguing the heritage garden at Sion Fort. Pics/Atul Kamble
A deep rot
When mid-day visited the garden, regular visitors listed out what their favourite place is ailing from. The problem of dilapidated steps is a major one. As the fort is an old structure, the steps have been crumbling, which has become problematic for runners, who visit the garden for exercise. It is also more strenuous to go all the way to the top of the broken stairs, pieces of which can be found dislodged or jutting out, increasing the risk of accident and injury.
We can attest to that because our correspondent, while inspecting the garden, tripped on a decrepit step, severely injuring her ankle. Age has started taking its toll on the trees and walls too, in the absence of pruning and maintenance. The age-old trees with weak roots are, one by one, becoming horizontal — ie getting uprooted and falling on the steps — after heavy rainfall. And, the wall at the top, which is part of the fort, has decayed completely.
Then there's also the issue of improper garbage disposal. The garden is located just a few metres from the station and is surrounded by slums. Slum dwellers visiting the garden have been polluting it by throwing trash all over with utter disregard. There is a need to put more bins on the premises, and the garden's caretakers need to be made aware about the proper way to dispose garbage, as they often burn it, which adds to air pollution.
More eyes needed
Also, the number of caretakers, too, is insufficient, and the shortage of manpower has been putting extra burden on the existing staff. This, in turn, has been affecting the garden's maintenance. Moreover, attracted by the picturesque views the place offers, couples flock there all through the day, but there are no CCTV cameras, and security guards can't keep track of all the youngsters, to make sure they haven't had any accident.
A resident, Prabhas Mishra, said, "Young couples hang around in the fort well after dark. Though we keep taking rounds of the entire premises, in the absence of CCTV cameras, it's difficult to keep an eye everywhere. What if something happens to someone in some corner of the place? Considering the huge size of the garden, we need more eyes."
Admitting to the many issues, local corporator Rajeshri Shirwadkar said she is in discussions with other officials regarding the problems. "Presently, only two-three guards are working, and it's impossible for them to supervise such a huge space all the time. That's why they have failed to control the menace of drugs and alcohol inside the garden. To stop that, we have demanded that the walls be made higher, so that troublemakers from surrounding areas can't enter," she added.
"The BMC is installing 25 lamps along the pathway, and a few floodlights have been ordered. We have also requested that it bring in more guards." When asked about the broken steps, Shirwadkar said repairs have gotten delayed due to technical problems. "As it is a historical place, we have to follow certain rules, as decided by the Centre. So, we have to get the stones and cement as per guidelines. This material isn't available in the state, so we have to order it from outside. Procuring the NOC for this process becomes problematic. But we have already floated tenders for the same," she assured.
A slice of history
A notified Grade I heritage structure, the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Udyan was built by the British between 1669 and 1677. In 2011, the BMC had sought permission from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to beautify the garden and areas around Sion Fort; BMC reportedly wanted to convert the space into a theme-based garden. But ASI rejected the proposal. Later, reconstruction of the fort also came to a halt due to lack of financial support.
* Dilapidated steps, with pieces dislodged or jutting out, increasing risk of injury
* Decayed, uprooted trees
* Broken boundary walls
* Improper garbage disposal
* Insufficient number of dustbins
* Shortage of manpower (guards and caretakers)
* No CCTV cameras, required to cover the huge space
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