Save Rani Baug
April 2010: In an era of climate change, Mumbai needs green open spaces more than buildings. But the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) does not share this view. It is perhaps a parable of our times that this body has time and again demonstrated its lack of desire to protect what little natural beauty remains in this metropolis.
The latest misadventure made its appearance in March 2007, when the BMC announced that it wants to set up an ‘international standard zoo’ in V.J.B. Udyan (also known as Rani Baug), at a cost of Rs. 433 crores. Rani Baug was established in 1861 as a botanical garden and is home to 3,170 trees of 226 species. In 1873, the then British dispensation added 15 acres to the existing botanical garden area and introduced a small zoo. For the last 137 years, the botanical garden and zoo have co-existed with the latter occupying 63 per cent of the total area.
Successive RTI applications filed by concerned members of the Save Rani Baug Botanical Garden Action Committee revealed that to incorporate the BMC’s ambitious plans most enclosures, pathways and ponds would need to be relocated and approximately 1,100 trees will be “out of bounds” for the public because new animal enclosures would be built around them, thus denying public access. In addition, fragile tree roots, some over a century old, would be damaged when animal enclosures are relocated, pathways changed and new sewage, storm water, fresh water and electric lines laid. There is no credible way for the authorities to keep flippant promises that “not a single tree will be damaged or felled.”
In any event, the historical character, sanctity and heritage value of the botanical garden would be sacrificed forever.
Recent newspaper reports suggest that even before it has started, the cost of the construction has escalated from Rs. 433 crore to Rs. 480 crore. This is much greater than the total amount of money allocated by the state of Maharashtra to protect all the wildlife in the state and reveals the priority of policy makers.
In April 2009, responding to a detailed representation by the Save Rani Baug Botanical Garden Committee before the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC), the BMC began to deny that the area was ever ‘declared’ a botanical garden – never mind that it is de facto a botanical garden.
In July 2009, a phalanx of retired Supreme Court judges, former Chief Secretaries, former Municipal Commissioners and former Chairpersons of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) penned an open letter to the Chief Minister to scrap the ill-conceived plan. Representatives of BNHS, WWF-India, Sanctuary Asia, AGNI, UDRI, CitiSpace, Awaz Foundation and NAGAR also signed the letter.
The BMC has modified its layout plans at least six times after facing stiff opposition, however, they continually respond merely by making cosmetic changes, ignoring substantive issues. Not surprisingly, the BMC has often changed its own figures with regard to the number of rare trees, reducing the number to suggest that “no real damage would be caused.”
Apart from routine city level clearances, the plans need approval from the Central Zoo Authority and the MHCC. Approval from the former has been granted with the proviso that not a single tree, bush or creeper be cut or transplanted. This is an impossible condition to fulfill and the project should be scrapped on this one ground alone. In June 2009, the MHCC also issued 13 of its own conditions to safeguard the botanical garden. Two experts Dr. Asad Rahmani, Director BNHS and Dr. M.R. Almeida, senior botanist, suggested then that the redevelopment exercise be scrapped. Sanctuary readers are urged to write to make the same demand.
Write to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra protesting against the BMC zoo plan making the following points:
1. To face the threat of climate change Mumbai needs to protect its open spaces and old-growth trees, not replace them with buildings.
2. This Grade II-B heritage precinct with gardens laid out in Renaissance style is a vital open space for Mumbai’s citizens, which is affordable. Huge investments will inevitably lead to higher entry charges, thus denying the ‘aam aadmi’ easy access.
3. Rani Baug is a valuable resource base for botanists for taxonomical, morphological and ecological studies.
By the Save Rani Baug Botanical Garden
Shri Ashok Chavan
Chief Minister of Maharashtra
Sixth Floor, Mantralaya, Mumbai – 400 032
Tel.: (022) 22025151, 22025222,
Fax: (022) 22029214
Governor Shri K. Sankaranarayanan
Maharashtra State Government,
Malabar Hill, Mumbai – 400 035.
Tel.: (022) 23630635, 23637671