This Article is From Jun 11, 2015

Mumbai Must Protect the Forest in the Heart of the Concrete Jungle

Imagine yourself as an urban dweller captivated by the sight of exotic birds such as the Purple-rumped Sunbird, Grey Hornbill, Paradise Flycatcher, Black Drongo; butterflies like the Oriental Peacock Pansy, Dakhan Yellow Orange Tip or the Atlas Moth, the world's largest moth. Or being astonished by a diverse range of flora such as Crinium Lilies, Hill Turmeric, Spiral Ginger among others.

Imagine catching a glimpse of a rusty-spotted cat, the world's smallest wild cat, herds of Spotted Deer shying away from your gaze or a black-naped hare outrunning a predator. Macaques swinging from one tree to another. Spotting a Leopard or shuddering as a Bamboo Pit Viper slithers across your foot?

You can do all of this. They all live in a biodiversity park within Mumbai's limits almost undisturbed by the hustle and bustle of urban activity.

Enriched with incredibly diverse flora and fauna, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) - previously called the Krishnagiri National Park and formed in 1950 - is home to over 1,300 species of plants, 170 species of butterflies, over 274 species of birds and 78 species of reptiles and amphibians. In addition to this, the Park's topography is exceptional. SGNP encompasses various types of forests - grasslands, moist teak forest, mangroves, mixed deciduous forest and sub-tropical hill forest.

It is worth pointing out that the origins of this forest landscape date back to the 4th century BC. The park also has in it the magnificent Kanheri Caves, established as an influential Buddhist pilgrimage site. They were sculpted out of basaltic rock formations between the 1st century BC and 9th century AD.

Then there are the Tulsi and Vihar lakes situated inside the Park that were constructed in 1870 and supply nearly 10% of Mumbai's total water. The park also acts as an aquifer during the monsoon season, recharging the ground water on which lakhs of people who live in surrounding areas are dependent. It also acts as a bulwark against air pollution by absorbing noxious industrial and vehicular emissions thereby purifying the air.

Sadly, we have been willfully ignorant and insensitive to the protective benefits of SGNP. A lack of environmental awareness among citizens has upset the delicate ecological balance. We continue to intrude into the wildlife space. As a result, for many years the park has faced challenges such as loss of natural habitat due to encroachment, conflicts between men and animals, porous boundaries, fogging and littering.

Every day, 30 to 50 kg of plastic waste littered carelessly by visitors is collected by the municipal authorities and forest officials. Over 21,000 encroachers are yet to be rehabilitated despite Bombay High Court's orders in 1995 to remove encroachments in the park. This may even increase man-animal conflict in the future. Fogging in the park affects the existence of indigenous butterflies that are extremely vulnerable.

So what can be done to sustain the ecological balance of the SGNP? How do we facilitate the connection between man and nature?

We must place immense importance on education about nature and biodiversity. It is imperative to help the citizens especially children to develop and feel a deep affinity with diverse flora and fauna found in SGNP along with its unique topography and other exceptional qualities that define the park. The SGNP provides abundant opportunities to enjoy nature - by strolling through, hiking, bicycling and exploration.

Kids must actively volunteer for nature restoration projects, form nature clubs as well as participate in hiking and camping activities. Battery-operated vehicles must be made available so that visitors can visit every nook and corner of the park.

Apart from that, boundary works of the park must be finished within a defined time frame. Only about 29,000 metres of the boundary has been completed so far against the target of 47,000 metres. Solar fencing facilities must be encouraged. Strict enforcement measures must be adopted by the forest officials to reduce man-animal conflict.

Simultaneously, sensitisation campaigns must be held on a regular basis to foster better understanding amongst people about sustained co-existence with wild animals especially leopards.

We are brought up to love the nature which is the source of our being. It is a blessing to have a marvellous biodiversity forest park within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). The Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) spanning over 104 square kilometres is an exception. Natural biodiversity habitats within urban areas are a rarity. SGNP is the only biodiversity forest in the world situated in the heart of an concrete jungle.

The extremely fortunate people of Mumbai must develop an eager sense of possessiveness and must zealously guard SGNP from any threat.

"Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life

(Poonam Mahajan is the National Secretary, BJP and Member of Parliament from Mumbai North Central)

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