Garden by the canalside
Flowers and fruits are growing where garbage used to pile up. Snehal Sengupta writes on the Bagjola bank transformation
- Published 8.01.16
A kilometre-long stretch along New Town’s Bagjola Canal has transformed from an urban wasteland to a sight for sore eyes as if by a touch of a magic wand. The canalside has been cleared of garbage and is all set to open as a nursery selling saplings and organic produce as well as an activity centre.
The entrance to the nursery is a bamboo-and-hay structure that reads “Omnidel Green Village” and is visible from the Major Arterial Road (MAR). It is adjacent to an apartment in BE Block of Action Area I and appears on the left shortly after the Hidco Bhavan crossing. It will be officially opened on January 24.
The stretch has been developed by educationists and New Town residents Sourabh and Reena Sarkar, who have leased the land from New Town Kolkata Development Authority (NKDA).
Walking in through the gates, one sees a vertical log division in between the greens. The section on the right, adjacent to the canal, is open to all. A walkway has been created for people to stroll, although in an attempt to stay true to nature, no cement has been used. Visitors can also buy saplings or farm produce here.
“We haven’t erected much in this section as this portion belongs to the irrigation department and they might need it sometime in future,” said Sourabh. NKDA is the custodian of this portion.
The section on the left, belongs to NKDA and this is where most of the action is centred. There are beds of flowering plants, ornamental plants, cauliflowers, gourds, tomatoes and mustard fields. “We have the biggest mustard field in town,” smiles Sourabh. They have around 6,000 species of plants with 1,20,000 trees and saplings and visitors can buy saplings as well as the produce.
“Since it’s winter, the seasonal flowers are in full bloom and are looking beautiful. They’re already attracting many curious passers-by,” said Reena.
Sixty locals of the area have been roped in to maintain the greens and there is provision for a community kitchen at a later stage where vegetables from the farm could be cooked on spot for those working there. A bio-toilet complex is also being built.
There are plans to hold music, dance and art classes in this pleasant ambience. A large LCD TV has been set up in one of the thatched huts to help with the classes. Besides regular classes by professional teachers, volunteers who want to share their experience in music, dance or gardening are also welcome.
The Sarkars used to run the Indian Idol Academy in Salt Lake’s CL Block. They hope to continue their association with the arts here.
“We shall also tie up with schools and hold workshops for students on plants and horticulture,” said Sourabh.
Since the Village is trying to be as nature-friendly as possible, the timings are from sunrise to sunset, to limit the use of electric lights.
The project has been funded by the Sarkars but they have received financial assistance by way of grants from the Tata Trust and the National Skill Development Corporation. “We have spent around Rs 50 lakh on this project. To sustain it, we will be selling organic vegetables although donations will form a major part of our sustainability,” said Sourabh.
Makeover for garbage dump
Till the Sarkars started developing the stretch eight months ago, it was a garbage dump in danger of getting encroached.
“There were mounds of garbage, the canal emitted a strong stench and plastic was everywhere,” says Sourabh, a chemical engineer from IIT who also holds a degree in film and television from Syracuse University in the US. Sourabh returned from the US in 1996 and started the NGO Karmayog Foundation that educates underprivileged children.
He and wife Reena live in an apartment in New Town next to Omnidel Green Village and Karmayog Foundation is based out of Mahisbathan. “We wanted to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots and thought this could be done by gainfully employing slum-dwellers in a farm like this,” says Sourabh.
So they got labourers as well as heavy construction machinery like tractors, JCBs and back-loaders to level the land and plough it. “So many plastic bags and empty gutkha packets came out from every
inch of soil,” recalls Paritosh Mondal, the manager-cum-caretaker of the place.
It was another uphill task to remove encroachers, who had started lining up along the canal. “New Town is a growing township and labourers migrating to work here had started erecting shanties along the canal. It was difficult but we somehow managed to convince them to move away. We told them that this Village would integrate them and employ them,” says Sarkar.
Debashis Sen, the chairman of NKDA, is happy with the set-up. “Previously, we were spending a sizeable amount of money to keep the canalside clean but even then people were dumping garbage there. So we thought of leasing the plot out,” said Sen.
NKDA had divided the plot into seven parts and Karmyog Foundation bid for all seven of them. They have taken it on a 33-year lease.
“Not only has Karmyog Foundation transformed the stretch but we are also earning by leasing out the land. And we don’t have to worry about encroachment,” said Sen.
Across the canal
The other side of Bagjola Canal continues to remain an eyesore. This area, called Jatragachhi Adarshapalli Road, is dirty, polluted and lined with hutments of encroachers.
“We will try and emulate this experiment on other canalbank areas as well,” promised Sen.
Is leasing out land on canal banks the way to keep off encroachers?
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