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HC orders garden visit by panel

The high court on Wednesday ordered a committee set up by the court to supervise the upkeep of the Indian Botanic Garden to visit the Shibpur sprawl on June 28 and file a report on July 18.

“The committee will have to visit the garden on June 28 to check its condition and inquire into its problems. The committee will also verify how the Great Banyan Tree is being maintained. It (the panel) will have to file a report on July 18, the day the case will come up for hearing again,” the division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi said.

The order followed a submission by environment activist Subhas Dutta that the condition of the garden had not changed since the setting up of the committee to look after its upkeep.

The bench of Chief Justice Mishra and Justice Bagchi had in February last year set up the committee, headed by government pleader Ashok Banerjee.

“Some development schemes need to be taken up at the garden. Something has to be immediately done to save the banyan tree. The tree should be fenced right away. The special committee should be asked to take immediate steps to protect the historic tree,” Dutta submitted in the court.

The 320-year-old Great Banyan Tree is Asia’s oldest and largest tree, spread across 14,500sq m. The tree is 15.7m-high and the circumference of its original trunk — which is no more and the tree now stands on around aerial roots — was 1.7m.

The present crown of the tree has a circumference of nearly half a kilometre and the highest branch rises to about 25m.

Some of the branches were broken in the cyclones that struck in 1884 and 1886. The main trunk of the tree was destroyed in 1925 in a fungal infection.

Another problem — which highlights the necessity to erect a fence around the tree — is visitors’ tendency to engrave their names on the aerial roots and branches.

The garden itself is the largest and oldest man-made garden in Asia, with more than 12,000 planted threes and herbs.

In 2010, Dutta had moved a petition in the high court submitting that mismanagement by the authorities was destroying many valuable trees and herbs. Two years later, a division bench of the high court asked the garden authorities to file an audit report on the trees.

The audit report was submitted on February 19 last year. The authorities stated in the report that a huge grant was required for proper upkeep of the garden.

Dutta prepared a list of work pending at the garden, based on the audit report, and handed it to the court.

“The garden needs Rs 5.77 crore to desilt the 24 tanks on the premises. The tanks are interlinked and also connected to the Hooghly. The Centre has only allotted Rs 25 lakh for the job,” Dutta had submitted.

“Around Rs 23 lakh is needed to erect a fence around the Great Banyan Tree but the Centre has not allotted a single paisa for the maintenance of the tree since October 2007.”

Dutta had stated that around Rs 10 crore was needed to complete some urgent work at the garden.

Along with a list of the heads on which funds were required, Dutta had placed some suggestions for the betterment of the garden. The division bench accepted the list and set up the committee to take steps so that immediate needs of the garden could be met.