Island of green

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By A park coming up on 480 acres in New Town promises an escape from the urban jungle, says Sucheta Chakraborty
  • Published 3.08.12
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If Salt Lake has Central Park, New Town will soon have an eco-tourism park, which would be about nine times as big. A stretch of 480 acres thematically developed with various kinds of flowering plants, deciduous trees and herbs is coming up in Action Area II on the airport-bound Main Arterial Road.

The park promises to be a treat for garden lovers, a nature study tour destination for students, an outdoor shooting spot for photography enthusiasts as well as an ideal family outing for residents seeking an escape from the urban jungle.

An elaborate plan has been drawn up and work is underway since last November. An acre in the park would be devoted only to roses — of different colours and shapes. Coconut trees would be planted around the big waterbody in the middle of the park, creating a buffer so that the soil of the banks does not get worn off by wind erosion. Students would get to see various kinds of trees, shrubs, herbs and flowering plants that they read about.

“There would be some trees that you don’t find elsewhere now in the city,” promised Kamal Dixit, a gardener working at the park employed by Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (Hidco). The flowering plants being planted include Radhachura, Rangan, Shimul, various palms, Palash, Swarnachapa, Kanakchapa, Mohua, Bakul, Jarul, Amaltas, Alamonda of various hues, water and land lotus, and water lily.

The project is supposed to be completed in two years. The budget is Rs 134 crore, but officials expect it to cost more. The park was conceptualised by chief minister Mamata Banerjee when she was on her way back from the airport via New Town in July 2011. Noticing the waterbody at the centre of the huge plot, she had stopped and inspected the area.

Several government agencies are working shoulder to shoulder on the park. “The work has been split, as a result of which every agency is working with its own machinery. This is ensuring speedy progress,” said Debasish Sen, chairman of Hidco. While Hidco is coordinating the entire project, other government agencies which have been given responsibilities to carry out specific projects inside the park are Newtown Kolkata Development Authority (NKDA), State Fisheries Development Corporation, the forest department, Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority, Tea Research Association, Bengal Urban Infrastructure Development (BUIDL), Public Health Engineering (PHE) department and Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).

NKDA is supposed to develop the children’s centre inside the park, to be fitted with various play equipment. The fisheries body is taking care of a food court and an ethnic Bengali restaurant. The fisheries department would also develop a garden. The forest department is developing wild flower meadows, a bamboo garden and grasslands. CMDA would develop a butterfly garden, a play area and an amphitheatre and the Tea Research Association hopes to grow a tea plantation here.

“It would only be for visitors to experience what a tea plant looks like. This is not a commercial venture,” said an official of Hidco’s engineering section. PHE is developing five acres as a tropical tree garden. It will also grow a bonsai garden.

Hidco is taking advice from the CMC in matters related to plantation. “CMC is advising us on developing a Cactus Walk and a Heliconia Garden,” the official said.

The most interesting segment of the park, being developed by BUIDL, comprises a herb garden and Rabi Aranya. “Spread over three acres, Rabi Aranya is the brainchild of the chief minister. Trees and plants that were mentioned in Tagore’s works would be planted here. A list of names has been collected from Bangla Akademi,” said Sen.

“We are taking care of the remaining area. The water body is around 112 acres and the island at its centre is close to six acres. Hidco would be developing and beautifying both the water body and the island,” said a senior Hidco engineer. Paddleboat rides would be on offer for tourists in the water.

The island will cater to tourists. Food courts, souvenir shops, a convention centre with banquet hall, a sculpture court, a garden cafe and a spa would come up on it. There would be a resort too.

“The island would be divided into two zones — private and public. In the private area, an eco-resort would be developed over five acres by Hidco with private partnership. There would be crafts stalls in line with Delhi’s Dilli Haat where artisans will sell handicraft and handloom products. “The International Convention Centre would attract visitors especially as it is close to the airport. Visitors passing by can easily get down and shop,” smiled Sen.

A settlement of about 400 people on the land demarcated for the park might prove to be a hurdle but the government is trying to work around the problem.

“We are thinking of doing something on the lines of Siam Niramit, an entertainment zone of Bangkok showcasing the cultural heritage of Thailand. It has a model village where tourists get to see what a Thai village looks like and enjoy glimpses of traditional rural life. Here too we are thinking of doing something similar so that these people can be incorporated in the plan without being displaced as well as make a living from the park. We would discuss the idea with the local panchayat. A non-governmental organisation would be roped in that would be studying these villagers, understand their problems and train them so that they can support themselves financially. This is what is called village tourism,” said Sen.