In Jan 2021, when RI District 3141 Governor Sandip Agarwalla, as the then DGN, was planning major projects for his year, he was determined to do something big for Rotary’s latest focus area — preserving the environment. “I wanted to develop a sustainable large green lung in Mumbai and started searching for a suitable place to do a long-term sustainable project.” He did identify some areas belonging to Indian Railways and other organisations. “But we faced a lot of restrictions on what we could do and what was out of bounds. Getting permissions and clearances was also turning out to be a major problem.”
As he got in touch with various Rotarians in the district to suggest possible spaces, he was told that there was a large park in the Kalina campus of the University of Mumbai located in the suburbs of the metro, which needed rejuvenation.
The entrance has an impressive sculpture in metal of children springing from a vibrantly coloured rainbow of joy.
Rajesh Choudhary, a past president of RC Mumbai Versova, who has some links with the university, and whose club had done some tree plantation and waste management work with the academic body earlier, did the spade work after getting Agarwalla’s nod. “The park is located over an area of 50,000 sqft, with water bodies over a sprawling 18,000 sqft, including a lake,” he says. This park was developed by the university many years ago, but was now in a decrepit state and the university wanted it rejuvenated.”
Once the varsity authorities were on board, “we signed an MoU with them detailing what we proposed to do, its sustainability and management over the next 10 years, and started looking for sponsors,” says the DG.
HDFC Asset Management Company was quick to come on board as a CSR partner and provide the funding of ₹2 crore required to transform the park totally, and turn it into an educational and sustainable venture that would promote awareness on the need to protect the environment and the steps required to do so. Over and above this amount, ₹20–25 lakh will be required every year to maintain the park; right now his own club — RC Bombay — has contributed that money but the search for sponsorship for this annual amount is on.
Once the MoU was signed, the core group working on this project started looking for a designer and architect. “We have several builders and architects in our club and district, but we wanted somebody who has done a lot of work in biodiversity and finally zeroed in on Mega Scapes from Pune, with a rich experience in this field,” he adds.
A trained naturalist has been appointed to give groups of children a guided tour of the park, and the tour can be booked at a fee of ₹1,000.
One of the main tasks was to rejuvenate the lake where there were leakages and the water had lost its purity. So the water body was completely drained, the entire area cleaned, and once the water filled after the monsoon rains, it was subjected to the required water treatment to improve its quality. “Next we introduced aquatic life into the lake, put in water plants etc.”
As the central focus was on educating youngsters, particularly schoolchildren, on the importance of preserving and protecting the environment, the park had to be made attractive for this age group. So at the entrance, an impressive sculpture in metal of children springing out from a vibrantly coloured rainbow of joy was installed. The artist chosen for this installation was the nationally renowned sculptor, Arzan Khambata, says RC Bombay president Vineet Bhatnagar. “To put up a biodiversity park in an urban setting is an innovative and positive approach towards promoting a sustainable environment. Apart from the aesthetics, it is crucial for our ecosystem. Our club is immensely grateful to the vice-chancellor, registrar and management of the Mumbai University for giving us the opportunity to develop this park for the benefit of students and environmentalists,” he adds.
Help from HDFC Asset Management ensured that the Rotarians could expand the scope of the facilities on offer. Explaining these salient features, Agarwalla, a member of RC Bombay, the club which is driving and executing this project, said, “To send home the message to the children that this is a happy place… a place for fun and frolic, we are going to add in the near future fun features such as a small windmill, a small solar farm, stationary bikes by pedalling on which water can be dispensed, and similar features. There is a small amphitheatre within this park and on the inaugural day a street theatre group had enacted there a play on ecology and biodiversity.
Planet Run, a series of half marathons, across the world have been planned through Rotary clubs in 52 countries.
While Rotaractors have not yet been a part of this project, there is a plan to rope them in; RID 3141 has around 7,500 Rotaractors.
Detailing the educational components of this biodiversity park, Agarwalla says all the trees planted here had been QR coded and when scanned, gives all details of the species, whether it is native and so on. “We’ve also appointed a naturalist who will give guided tours of the entire park to groups of children. Her services and the park can be booked by schools in advance by paying a nominal ₹1,000, and the children can enjoy a guided tour of 3–4 hours.” Entry to the park, is otherwise free for everybody.
An ambitious part of this project is an attempt to weave “into our core curriculum environmental studies. Till now, environmental science is only a co-curriculum and not core curriculum component in our school education system, and is mentioned fleetingly in a few paras,” he says. After a mega effort, investment of about ₹50 lakh and engaging the services of a few senior environment experts in our country, quality educational content has been developed on the need to protect our environment, sustainable use of planet earth’s resources and allied material. The content which is now ready in three languages — English, Hindi and Marathi — is being put into three textbooks; level 1,2 and 3. With illustrations each level will have some 250 pages, and each book will cost ₹500 to print. Three e-modules have also been developed and already offered to the NCERT free of cost through the Rotary India Literacy Mission (RILM) to be telecast to children across the country.
To put up a biodiversity park in an urban setting is an innovative and positive approach towards promoting a sustainable environment.
– Vineet Bhatnagar, president, RC Bombay
Under this project, master trainers have been hired and they will in turn train teachers on how to teach children the content on environment and sustainability that has been developed. “We are going around schools in Mumbai to motivate the trustees and principals to give us 2 classes of 45 minutes each per week, so that the teachers trained by our master trainers can teach this subject in the right manner to students. We are beginning with Palghar and in the first phase hope to reach this curriculum on environment to 20,000 students,” says the governor.
The module includes field visits, including to the Kalina Biodiversity Park, so that the child really absorbs the messages on biodiversity, sustainability, etc. The curriculum, training and field visits will together cost ₹1,000 per child. The entire project is expected to cost ₹2 crore.
To ensure its wide reach, RID 3141 will offer the curriculum developed free of cost to all the states, and it can be translated in different languages, and even tweaked, as different states have different ecosystems and biodiversity, and used for their schools, he added.
All this is going to cost mega bucks, but efforts are on to reach out to corporates and get pledges through their CSR funds. A major way to raise the money required is holding Planet Run, a series of half marathons, across the world. A total number of 52 half marathons are being planned in 52 countries, through Rotary clubs. While a single half marathon will be held in each foreign country, in India at least 15 to 20 marathons are being planned. Apart from roping in corporates to pledge money, likeminded NGOs who are working on sustainability goals, will also be involved. Agarwalla’s ambitious target is to raise about $1million in the next five years, through these marathons, to take care of the different components of this mega environmental venture.
Participating in the inaugural of the Kalina park, Navneet Munot, MD and CEO of HDFC Asset Management Company, said, “We decided to be the sole funding partner for this biodiversity park under our CSR activities, as a part of our sustainable environment initiatives, particularly in a city like Mumbai, where this park will establish the model of conserving nature’s ecosystems amidst this concrete jungle.”
Director of the School of Strategic Studies Shailendra Deolanker said this was a “momentous and historic moment for the 150-year-old university.” A documentary would be made on the park, and similar efforts would be encouraged in universities across the country, he added.
Pictures by Atul Joshi and Abhishek Kawitkar
A park resplendent with colour, fragrance and beauty
This unique initiative of the Kalina Biodiversity Park not only strengthens the conservation of natural resources in an urban matrix but also aids climate change adaptation by enhancing the quality of the environment and serving as a sink for carbon dioxide and urban pollutants. This ecological laboratory will raise curiosity, build awareness, and create a constituency for sustainability in Mumbai.
The park boasts self-sustaining ecosystems designed around the principles of multi-sensory stimulation and engages the primary senses of sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. The picturesque landscaping has been done by Mega Scapes India, led by its founder, Abhishek Kawitkar. A unique approach has been followed in designing the park, starting with baseline studies of biodiversity parameters, hydrogeology of the pond and ground aquifers, and selecting climate-resilient plants and native trees.
The Serenity Garden houses fragrant plants like ova, chives, passionflower, jasmine and other brightly coloured flowers, while herbs like stevia, peppermint and basil oblige our tastebuds. Medicinal plants like insulin, allspice, betel nut, lemongrass, subja, and the akkalkadha further add to the healing environs of the park.
Winged wonders of all varieties have their habitats laid out here. The Pollinator Pathway is a plant corridor tailored for bees and other native pollinators. The Butterfly Garden is replete with larval host plants, nectar plants, native grasses and leafy shrubs, including jatropha, ixora, haldi-kunku (Asclepias), dingala, Stachytarpheta, koranti and lemon. It is an inviting environ for butterflies and a site for sore eyes. The restored lake is home to many aquatic birds, animals and plants, and, come winter, we will see migratory birds flock here for refuge. At the Bird Park, keen-eyed visitors may spot golden orioles, small blue kingfishers, white-browed fantails, sunbirds, common kites, rock pigeons, egrets or parakeets.
The garden is home to a landscaped Miyawaki forest, which has become the de facto template for urban afforestation programmes. This micro forest with a native multi-layer vegetation of trees, grasses and shrubs and includes the hedu, Sita-Ashok, nagkesar, bahava, bija, kanchan, kakad, karma, shivan, pangara, wild banana, Ochna, parijat and putranjiva, makes for a shaded green grove, a calming space for visitors.
Along with new techniques and technology like QR coding, best practices from traditional methods have been incorporated into the design of this green habitat. For example, a drip irrigation system using porous clay pots (ghadas), an erstwhile tribal practice, has been implemented to minimise evaporation loss and maximise plant water supply.
This signature green zone has been thrown open for visitors and students with prior appointments. Thoughtfully planned as an experience centre, a refurbished amphitheatre is the perfect venue for extracurricular activities and cultural events for campus students and school children.
Above all, stressing Rotary’s core principle of being inclusive, this park has been designed for easy accessibility by the differently-abled.
The writer is a past president of Rotary Club of Mumbai Kalakar