Policies and People | Heritage conservation can drive climate action - Hindustan Times
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Policies and People | Heritage conservation can drive climate action

Dec 08, 2022 07:10 PM IST

The Roxburgh Project envisages restoring and sustainably rehabilitating an ensemble of heritage buildings in the 273-acre gardens and utilise the historic gardens as a lab for climate crisis awareness and environmental education.

In 1787, Colonel Robert Kyd, an East India Company army officer, identified 300 acres of prime land along the river Hoogly in Howrah, West Bengal, and established the Royal Botanic Garden. Kyd wanted to use this space to identify new plants of commercial value, such as teak and growing spices for trade, to ensure a revenue stream for his employers.

Inside the Botanic Garden stands a 230-year-old dilapidated building called the Roxburgh Building and the herbarium that once had the richest collection of plant specimens in the world. (Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons) PREMIUM
Inside the Botanic Garden stands a 230-year-old dilapidated building called the Roxburgh Building and the herbarium that once had the richest collection of plant specimens in the world. (Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1793, however, the garden’s focus changed when Scottish surgeon and botanist William Roxburgh took over as the garden superintendent. He wanted to focus on studying India’s flora and develop a herbarium, a collection of dried plant specimens that are stored, catalogued, and arranged by family, genus and species for study.

Today, the garden is known as the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden and is in the throes of yet another shift. This time, the focus will be on heritage conservation, climate action and sustainability.

But before I come to the new programme called the Roxburgh Project, it is critical to understand the importance of the garden, which is only a few km away from Kolkata, in a region bereft of green cover and open public spaces.

Among all Indian metros, Kolkata has the least, less than 1%, urban forest cover, according to a Forest Survey of India report. Activists feel this has happened because of large-scale tree felling for development projects and frequent cyclones. Unlike other cities, the building sector in Kolkata is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, totalling some 6.3 million tonnes of GHG or 42.8% of total emissions.

Today, the garden is known as the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden. (Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Today, the garden is known as the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden. (Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Botanic Garden is an oasis in this large-scale urban mess.

It now has 273 acres and is a living repository of 1,377 plant species, has 25 divisions and 24 interconnected lakes, which are connected to the river through sluices for the regular inlet and outlet of water.

The Roxburgh Project

Inside the Botanic Garden stands a 230-year-old dilapidated building called the Roxburgh Building and the herbarium that once had the richest collection of plant specimens in the world.

The project focuses on restoring the building and planning a gamut of activities around the garden’s natural legacy, which includes the famous 250-year-old Great Banyan tree that covers about 14,500 square metres of land (3.5 acres), making it the widest tree in the world. From a distance, the tree appears like a forest, but what appear to be individual trees are aerial roots — around 3,600 of them, explains Atlas Obscura.

The Roxburgh International Trust, a charitable organisation, has signed an MoU with the Botanical Survey of India for the restoration and adaptive reuse of the building and other important structures in the compound. The Roxburgh House, the Old Herbarium and the Old Seed Store form the historic core of the garden.

“The project envisages restoring and rehabilitating this ensemble of heritage buildings as the core of a reinvigorated public engagement programme,” Nilina Deb Lal, programme director of the project, told The Telegraph.

“There are many reasons why the project needs to go through. First, the immense importance of the buildings and the green heritage of the park. Second, there is crying need for open space in the Kolkata and the adjoining districts. The 273 acres of the garden are only a few continuous green areas in the city,” said Lal during a recent online seminar. “Besides, this is a very under utilised park and should be used for public engagement, climate awareness and environment education.”

The views expressed are personal

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