Rishi Majumder visits Maharashtra Nature Park in the suburb and is amazed at its wide species of flora and fauna
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Mumbai is a city of paradoxes, according to many. That the Maharashtra Nature Park – 37 acres of lush forest – exists on one side of the Mithi river, with the commercial Bandra Kurla Complex forming it’s horizontal backdrop on the other side, is a paradox. That Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, fringes the Bandra Kurla Complex area – the commercial capital’s new commercial center is another paradox. That the crammed and disease-ridden bastis of Dharavi and Sion would flank adjacently the Maharashtra Nature Park – the MMRDA’s showcase of pristine natural beauty – is therefore just another ‘natural’ paradox that is inevitable to any Mumbai town planning scheme.
“We grew this nature park on land that was previously used by the BMC for dumping garbage from the Mithi river by 1982,” boasts Dr Jagdish Punetha, WWF’s state director. WWF acted as the advisor for setting up this project, with MMRDA taking charge of execution. The park plays host to a variety of rare plants, insects, birds, fishes and snakes, which are the subject of many a botanist or zoologist’s studies. “The maximum visitors are therefore school and college students,” explains MMRDA appointee in charge of the park’s maintenance and state forest officer Avinash Kubal. “And while I have a dedicated 12-member team for maintenance, the maximum contribution towards upkeep comes from professionals and students in this field.” Declared rare species cited to be a part of this enclave are 260 for plants, 84 for birds and 39 for plants. “We wanted to imbibe in the park all the five ‘elements’ of fire (sun), water, air, earth and life,” Punetha explains. So the sun was symbolised by the spherical learning center built in the area’s middle with two narrow wings reaching out like “rays”. Wind was taken care of by a mini windmill. Water is a large but clean pond. “This, fish included, attracts the migratory birds,” Kubal points out. Which brings you to life – aquatic, vegetative, reptilian and mammalian. Taking this religious ‘element’ fixation a step further however, was erecting the Nakshatra Van: “Every star sign, as per Hindu mythology has a specific tree, and I believe that maybe a companionship with that tree would improve your life greatly,” Punetha comments on the setting up of this astrological garden. While he goes on to dismiss superstition and calls this system a mere “great way to conserve at least 21 species”, security-in-charge Lallan Jha claims: “Many people come here as a pilgrimage to this garden – the belief goes that sitting under ‘your tree’ leads to wish fulfilment!”
So while bird watchers prowl in as early as seven to eye an oriole or white wagtail or marsh harrier (migratory winter birds), kingfishers and red wattled Lapwings are more common finds around the lake. Striped Tiger, Had Jod, Bracket Fungus and the Buddha Banboo draw botanists from all over the country. As for snakes, the watchmen claim they’re so harmless that, “One even visits Kubal Saab to wind itself around its hand playfully!”
But now for the slums. They were a problem when the park was being set up, being the prime users of the BMC dumping ground for their toilet, and the watchmen claim they still create many issues. “Only yesterday I caught three men who’d stolen a lot of loot and had come here to distribute it amongst themselves – they were fighting!” Jha exclaims.
Punetha counters: “Unlike the public’s perception of them, slum dwellers are a very civic minded lot. When we were setting up here, they quickly realised what was being done and discontinued using this spot for dumping their rubbish.” “Why will I encroach upon their land,” Mohan, a slum dweller on the park’s periphery questions. “That plot is a good place of greenery for me to take my own children. Otherwise they have only darkness.” He should definitely visit the Nakshatra Van…
This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/7rgc