Garbage dump turned into nature park in Mumbai

Last Updated 23 January 2016, 18:32 IST

Nestled in the concrete jungle of Mumbai, lies a small patch of green lung – the Bhavan’s Nature and Adventure Centre (BNAC), which is leading a love-nature movement.

It’s the green lap of this Maximum City and it is slowly entering the tourist map of Mumbai. But the transformation of the BNAC from a garbage dump to a nature park in the heart of Mumbai, was an interesting one. That too in the commercial capital of the country, that commands the highest property rates and land sharks eye such pieces of land.

The BNAC has risen from a garbage dump to a mini forest with hundreds of big and small trees. “I am attached to it…those who work here are attached to it. It’s a mission for all of us,” said Himanshu Prem Joshi, the man behind the transformation.

“We practically started from a scratch,” he said. The transformation started after they went through the old records of the Bhavan's College, one of the finest educational institutions of the country. “When we went through the old records, we came to know about the plants, birds and other records...that gave us the start and confidence to do something,” he said.

The BNAC at Andheri-West, spread over three acres – around  two-acres green niche along a one-acre lake, harbours over 250 plant species, 55 to 60  bird species, 45 butterfly species and other living creatures. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the Andheri station on the Western Railway suburban network of Mumbai. It’s located inside the sprawling 65-acre Bhavan’s College campus, a part of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

All this has happened within seven to eight years and more importantly, it figures as the official partner of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020 initiative – which in itself is a rare achievement. In fact, the cast and crew of “Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah” visited the complex and shot a couple of episodes - that made it famous nationally.

“After we were featured in Taarak Mehta serial, we got popular across the country... in fact, people of Mumbai too were not aware of such a place in Mumbai....today whenever the serial gets repeated, we are flooded with calls and queries,” he said.

The annual Prakruti festival has made it popular.  “It was launched to provide a platform for exchange and interaction between silent or unheard workers, students and veterans in the field of nature and environment protection. Organisers expect this forum to display the best of the environmentally beneficial lifestyles, technologies and science projects for betterment of humanity and our delicate planet,” added Himanshu.

In fact, around a decade ago, the Bhavan's management decided that the land could be utilised to educate youngsters. Then, Himanshu Prem was roped in.  “Dr M L Shrikant, the dean and Chairman of the college, intended to utilise the area for educating and involving youngsters. Also,  Lalit Shah, the Bhavan’s Cultural Centre Administrator, invited me to develop the same...we decided to transform it,” said Himanshu. During the Diwali in 2011, decision was taken to clean it up. “There used to be empty liquor bottles, beer cans and cigarette butts and we cleaned them up,” he said. “We roped in several volunteers and these included students and environment activists. There used to be tall grass, marshy land, sometimes going there was not safe, but we decided to change it,” he said.

“We started planting trees. But during the first monsoon when the transformation was taking places, there was flooding one day and lot of things washed away. We then worked out on contours to ensure that there is no submergence henceforth and it worked. We then decided to plant several medicinal plants,” he said. As this was underway the idea came to impart basic jungle survival skills to children.

It was gradually developed as a full-fledged nature centre and now has several small wild flora, fauna and reptiles, an artificial cave-cum-tunnel with rock paintings, life-size statues of tribals from India, Africa and South America, two machans (tree-top forest outposts), overnight jungle camping for students, a butterfly garden, fossils and an ancient cave.

“A kid who is exposed to nature, allowed to feel it and deal with birds and animals, he or she can never turn into a criminal. Such is the power of nature,” said Himanshu. The aim is nature education, nature awareness, science, adventure and animal care.

“Not only do  we bring kids closer to the nature, we also tell them the dos and don’ts of nature, survival techniques, navigation, rappelling and so on….the BNAC really teaches nature and adventure,” he said. It is open on Saturdays and Sundays and also during the week, that allows kids in groups from schools. “There are overnight programmes as well,” he said.

“As a proud component of the Bhavan’s family comprising over 300 constituent institutions across India and abroad, it aims to reach out to the masses through its activities and programmes aimed at building a beautiful India,” adds Himanshu. At the centre of the campus, is a beautiful small lake, which enriches the biodiversity of the campus. It is a habitat for a variety of flora and fauna. Amidst ones hectic and busy lifestyle, the peaceful ambience, lush greenery and the chirping of birds that fills the air surrounding the lake is commendable.

One of the interesting things here is the session of animal interaction -- a unique experience for all the kids. Here they could touch and feel the birds and animals. Kids are thrilled by the softness of rabbits and guinea pigs. There are parakeets as well.

Himanshu has been active in the field of camping, trekking, adventure and environment education since 1982. Armed with awareness about its activities, the BNAC plans to expand by including many more activities and exhibits to make this a unique on-campus nature centre of its kind in the country, Himanshu said.

(Published 23 January 2016, 17:51 IST)

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