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Next time you are in a local train in the middle of a busy day, looking at the nearly 138 gardens that dot the railway lines may be a treat for your tired eyes. Nearly 36 people work every day to groom these gardens for the lakhs of commuters using the local train network. The man in charge of handling these gardens on the Central Railway — that has most of these — is 57-year-old Balu Bhau Thorat, assistant divisional engineer (horticulture), who joined the railways in 1991.
“There are 33 varieties of flowers planted in these gardens. These include bougainvillea, hibiscus, almendra, Thevetia peruviana (kaner) among other varieties,” Thorat told The Indian Express. He added that the reason behind choosing these plants were because they flower right through the year and look pretty. “We mix and match the different coloured plants at the various gardens,” Thorat added.
Talking about the effort it takes for the railway staff to maintain these gardens, Thorat said there is a staff of 36 contractual employees headed by a supervisor who take care of these plants. “Every morning, the 36 employees visit these gardens and clean the garbage thrown by train commuters. Then the plants are watered every morning around 8am,” Thorat said. After watering the plants, the employees then trim them. Once every week, the employees pluck out weeds. Once a fortnight, the employees do manuring work and spray insecticides on the plants that appear to be infected.
A railway employee said the gardens around railway platforms came up in 2002 in order to deal with the problem of garbage. “A general manager of Central Railway around the time had seen garbage accumulating around platforms that made railway stations took ugly. This mostly comprised stuff thrown off trains by commuters. It was he who came up with the idea of setting up mini-gardens around platforms so as to counter the garbage and beautify the railway stations,” the official said.
That began the process of setting up gardens and, over the next decade, most railway stations on the Central line saw gardens coming up. “Since people have been hired to look after these gardens, cleaning them up is a prerequisite. This has changed the way railways stations look in the last few years,” he said.
In addition to these gardens around railway platforms, Thorat also handles a 2,000 sqm garden at the Malabar Hill bungalow of the CR general manager, a 900 sqm garden at the railway officers colony at Badhawar Park in Cuffe Parade and two gardens at the CST building.
“Several of these gardens have entered flower competitions and won first prizes organised by the National Society of the Friends of the Trees,” Thorat said. He added, “Now that the monsoons are coming, we are in the process of planting many more saplings across the railway network. Plans are also afoot to add many more varieties of flowers to these gardens,” he added.