Amid Mumbai’s shrinking open spaces, there lies a small garden, built nearly 20 years ago, in the heart of south Mumbai. Once a haven for anti-social elements, it is now a traffic island adjacent to Rusi Mehta Chowk, Grant Road. The one-acre patch has more than 150 varieties of flowering plants and 40 varieties of fruit-bearing trees, thanks to the exemplary efforts of a doctor.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) awarded Dr Bandodi Sanjeev Chowta, a physician and surgeon, 70, last Sunday for preserving the bio-botanical green patch. Chowta has been showered with eight awards in the best (individual)-maintained garden category for eight years.
“Coming from a mass agriculture and plantation family, I always dreamt of nurturing plants and this garden has given me that opportunity. I spend nearly two hours every day at the garden,” Chowta said.
The British had constructed this plot in 1825. Chowta first adopted the traffic island in 1992 and grew fruit and flower-bearing plants and trees. The BMC was so impressed that it entered into a contract with Chowta to maintain the garden in 1993. “I had told the civic body I wouldn’t grow the usual ornamental varieties of flowers. But, I assured them of turning it into a green belt,” said Chowta.
Nearly 35 years ago, many used this area for drug peddling, prostitution and even gambling. The then superintendent, garden department of Mumbai, RK Vellodi, first handed over the Gardulla Chowk circle, where Chowta planted 50 saplings and brought up the first green patch. Authorities in the area were impressed and Vellodi proposed to the then commissioner of BMC, Sadshivrao Sinaikar, to hand over the plot to the doctor.
Chowta gives 1,000 coconut and 500 areca nut saplings to the civic body every year. Jackfruit, banana, raspberry, and Kolkata betel leaves are some of the attractions. Nearly 4,000 saplings are sent to Jijamata Udyan, Byculla, and other public gardens from here. The garden has also become home to rabbits, fighter cocks and, peahens.
“I have never used any chemical fertiliser, but only natural manure and cow dung,” Chowta said. The garden is open to public from 7am to 11pm and is a hub for botany students. “The fresh fragrance of flowers and trees is refreshing. It’s a good place for a jog,” said Arun Kumar, a resident of Grant Road.
“The municipality can’t do everything. More NGOs, locals and active citizens should help the corporation and in turn the environment,” said Vijay Hire, chief of garden department, BMC.