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Rooting for rare, old trees

It's been 40 years since professor Marselin Almeida completed his MSc in botany from St Xavier's College. But the 73-year-old still considers himself among those fortunate to have dissected and studied plants from ‘Victoria Gardens', now popularly known as Rani Baug or officially the Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan at Byculla.

mumbai Updated: Apr 11, 2011 01:20 IST
Snehal Rebello

It's been 40 years since professor Marselin Almeida completed his MSc in botany from St Xavier's College. But the 73-year-old still considers himself among those fortunate to have dissected and studied plants from ‘Victoria Gardens', now popularly known as Rani Baug or officially the Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan at Byculla.

Sitting in his Goregaon home, Almeida is unhappy about the Rs500-crore redevelopment plan proposed for the 150-year-old heritage garden by the civic body.

Last year, the botanist conducted a biodiversity mapping on the 53-acre garden that houses a zoo and concluded that redevelopment should not be undertaken because it would damage the rare and old trees in the garden.

Almeida's view to preserve the garden was echoed by Union minister for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh. On April 7, Ramesh wrote to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan stating that the green space must be maintained for the public and that the botanical garden would be damaged if the plan to house 627 animals was implemented.

Stating that the ministry's intervention was a positive step, Almeida said, “The civic body is claiming that they won't cut a single tree. But with such a large scheme, it's not possible that trees will not be damaged.”

He added that the trees at the garden must be numbered.

In his report, Almeida stated that constructing new animal enclosures, water bodies, moats, pathways, sewage and storm water lines would destroy the roots and ruin plant life. Further, the proposed plan would prevent the public from enjoying or studying the trees since over 1,000 trees — one-third of the total number — would fall inside the enclosures.

Hutokshi Rustomfram, who is spearheading the Save Rani Bagh Botanical Garden Committee, said nature trails and educational programmes could help explain the significance of the trees and the folklore about them to the public. “No other garden in the city is 150 years old. It's time we celebrate our green heritage rather than just built heritage,” said Rustomfram. “There are a million things to do with the garden. But right now the focus is on cement and concrete.”