They visited Rani Bagh Botanical Garden in Byculla as children and so when it came to protecting it, they went all out to ensure the place from their childhood memories is preserved.
When the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) proposed to build a zoo at the spot in 2007, Shubhada Nikharge, Hutokshi Rustofram, Katie Bagli, Hutoxi Arethna and Dr Sheila Tanna formed Save Rani Bagh Committee, dedicated to saving the garden.
The BMC released the plan to build a new zoo in the 53-acre land at a cost of Rs 433 crore. Using the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the group collected documents and information to support their cause.
Nikharge, a trustee, said, “The common cause of preserving the botanical garden brought us together. We started by investigating BMC’s grand scheme. We found restoration work had already begun on the garden without the requisite permissions from Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) and Central Zoo Authority (CZA).”
The group found that as part of the BMC’s restoration work, the entire place was being modified and trees were being destroyed.
The group approached the CZA to stop the trees from being cut. Fed up of verbal assurances, they filed a public interest litigation (PIL) at the Bombay high court (HC). Soon NGOs and envimental groups joined hands with them.
“At one point of time, a high-ranking bureaucrat even refused the existence of a botanical garden there at Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan,” said Hutokshi Rustofram, another trustee.
Over the past seven years, they have met countless officials. Their efforts bore fruit when the turned down BMC’s plan in 2011. A modified plan was finally drawn soon after.
“Though the new plan is better, it still has loopholes. Our main concern is what will happen to the trees and plants? The work on animal enclosures and the makeshift animal hospital have destroyed some of the plants,” Rustofram added. Around the same time, the committee was registered and it became Save Rani Bagh Botanical Garden Foundation.
“We still have a long way to go to find a common ground, which will preserve the botanical garden and at the same time have the upgraded zoo,” said Rustofram.