But their minds are anything but calm. In their unique way, they are agitating for a cause — saving the last remaining forest patch in the city from being consumed by development. The recital is part of an “open mic” programme conducted by cardiac intensivist and moto-traveller Abheek Ghosh. It is followed by performances ranging from motivational talk to poetry recital and even a rap, all dedicated to the cause of saving what they fondly call as Bharat Van.
Over the past more than six months, the city is witnessing a silent movement to save this approximately 23 hectares forested patch belonging to the state-run Panjabrao Deshmukh Krushi Vidyapeeth (PDKV). With about 132 flora and fauna species, this nature’s patch is up for grabs for a road project. Widely seen as part of a plan to develop the nearby Telankhedi lake as a tourist spot complete with a musical fountain, amphitheatre, laser show and viewers’ gallery, the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) is in the process of acquiring land for the 500-m long road and given the work to Maha Metro, the state Metro Rail authority.
Work, however, has stopped after the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court (HC) ordered a stay in December after treating as a PIL a letter by conservationist Jaydeep Das, who is livelihood manager with the Melghat Tiger Reserve and Honorary Wildlife Warden of Nagpur. The HC also made the NMC, Maha Metro and state government respondents in the case and appointed Kartik Shukul as amicus curiae to appraise the court of the facts of the case.
Since then, the residents of Bharat Nagar have been joined by citizens from across the city and even outside in opposing the so-called development plan. “This is the last remaining lung of the city. The proposed road is not needed as there are enough alternatives available to approach Telankhedi lake. We are not agitating against anyone. It’s a silent movement,” said Bharat Nagar resident Sachin Kale, a Chartered Accountant in the forefront of the movement.
City MP and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari has been strongly pushing the Telankhedi plan. “We met him before the elections and he has assured to look into the matter. Our movement includes participants from a wide spectrum of socio-political leanings, including the RSS and BJP,” Kale said.
“The whole Telankhedi precincts are over 200 years old and have been categorised as a Grade I heritage site, as such no construction can be allowed there. Shockingly, the city’s heritage committee has granted the permission,” Das said.
In the past six months, there has been a groundswell of support against the project. Several schools and colleges and organisations have joined the chorus. Drawing, slogans, “open mic” programmes, YouTube uploads of poetry, talks, yoga, stand-up comedy and even rap compositions dedicated to the cause have kept up the heat. On May 1, a human chain saw participation by over 6,000 people.
The NMC, however, put out a public notice on May 31 seeking objections in seven days to “removal and transplantation” of 558 trees coming in the way of the project, at least a hundred of them big trees like teak, tamarind, arjun and mango. Within a week, over 1,000 letters of objections flooded the NMC.
“We have submitted our affidavit to the HC. This road plan had nothing to do with the Telankhedi development plan. The former is there since 2000 while the latter is new. We acknowledge that transplantation of big trees has a very low success rate. So, we can design the alignment to skirt the big trees. And if the road is to be excluded from the DP, the process requires involving the state government. We have told all this to the HC and shall await its directive,” NMC Commissioner Abhijeet Bangar said.