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Flower power saves crumbling forts

mumbai Updated: Sep 19, 2016 00:19 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Since they began their clean-up activities, Raut and other volunteers noticed that visitors defaced walls with crayons or chalk, destroying centuries-old engravings on the walls. (HT Photo)

Fort conservation is a hobby for Bhayander resident Shridutta Raut who spends his weekends visiting forts in and around Mumbai.

Raut, 33, an accountant, tries to make the environs of the forts greener while indulging in his amateur interest in archaeology.

In the past 10 years, Raut’s 20-member volunteer group, called Kille Vasai Mohim , has worked on forts at Mahim, Shirgaon, Kelve, Janjira, Worli and Vasai. As they carry out conservation work, the volunteers also replant degraded forests around the fort with saplings and shrubs.

“We focus on planting saplings that can grow into large trees and can cover a large area,” said Raut. The volunteers select species of trees such as scarlet flame, laburnum, bread-fruit, mango, ashoka, copper pod and flame of the forest. To boost biodiversity, they add shrubs like West Indian jasmine (ixora), lemon, curry leaves and lantana.

“From a young age, I was interested in the rich history of forts, especially in Thane and Palghar. While there is a lot of archaeological information available, the forts are only frequented by couples and are hardly maintained,” said Raut. “In 2006, we began our research and identified over 50 forts across Mumbai, Thane and Palghar but most of them were run down.”

Since they began their clean-up activities, Raut and other volunteers noticed that visitors defaced walls with crayons or chalk, destroying centuries-old engravings on the walls.

Raut also discovered a solution to the question, “What to do with the tonnes of floral waste generated after festivals?” Paint made from organic materials is used to beautify the forts.

Every month, the group collects about 150kg of waste from flowers such as rose, saughandika (Javandhi), hibiscus, marigold, durva grass and even the karvi flower that blooms once in eight years. During the festive season, the quantity increases to 300kg. “The petals are collected and mixed with gum from banana stems or ladyfinger and made into a paste. We also add waste collected from rice factory to make the thick paint,” said Raut.

The 2016 Nirmalya project

In an attempt to reduce nirmalaya (flower waste) reaching dumping grounds in the city or ending up in the sea, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will compost 1,083 metric tonnes of nirmalya collected over 11 days of Ganeshotsav.

To collect the waste separately, the BMC had installed 246 nirmalaya kalsh (collection points) at immersion sites. “Similar to last year, we will carry out the composting process at our plant in Ghatkopar (West) and the manure produced will be used in municipal gardens,” said a senior official from BMC’s solid waste management department. Last year, BMC had collected 685 tonnes of nirmalaya with 899 civic workers appointed for the collection of waste.

Nirmalaya waste converted to compost will be used at municipal gardens, which the civic body otherwise purchases for Rs 8 a kg.

How are nirmalya flowers converted to natural paint?

Petals from discarded flowers are collected in buckets with a capacity of 10litres

The petals are allowed to dry out in the sun for a few days

The natural gum of banana stems or ladyfingers is collected

A paste is made with the dried leaves

The concoction is mixed with waste collected from rice factories

The mixture is then boiled till a thick colour emerges

The collected paint is one-fourth the 10litre bucket

The colour depends on which flower petals were selected – red for rose, yellow/gold for marigold. Petals that have turned completely black are not used, as they will give only black colour

(Source: Shridutta Raut, Fort conservationist, resident of Bhayander)

Experts say

“The haphazard condition of forts across Mumbai and its surrounding areas can be seen with garbage strewn almost everywhere. While Raut’s efforts are noble when it comes to keeping these heritage sites clean, he needs to be careful and take support from government or private bodies so that scriptures of important historic value are not destroyed.”

- Dr Kurush Dalal, assistant professor, archaeology department, University of Mumbai, who surveyed a number of forts as a part of statewide clean-up drive by the state government between Friday and Saturday.