WITH the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) proposing to include the Maharashtra Nature Park (MNP) within the Dharavi Redevelopment Project area, nature enthusiasts and researchers have raised concerns over the loss such a move would cause to the natural ecosystem, and consequently, Mumbai’s environment.
“Mumbai has two main lungs — the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and the manmade nature park. Unfortunately, today everything is seen in commercial terms but you cannot really evaluate the amount of oxygen produced there. With so much pollution in the city, we need some sort of a protective shield. This is also many students’ first contact with nature. The development authorities are only thinking of growth in terms of buildings, this is very short sighted. If the area goes to builders, they might make it an amusement park and it will defy the original purpose of the area,” said Nelson Rodrigues, the author of the book Butterflies of Mumbai.
Spread over 15 hectares, the MNP is home to over 158 varieties of birds, 85 species of butterflies, 30 spider varieties and 32 kinds of reptiles. This wide biodiversity makes it a “natural laboratory” for researchers.
“It would be more apt to call it a forest than a park as it promotes great biodiversity. It also has a whole section on medicinal plants and many researchers come here to study organisms closely. It was this park which initiated my interest in nature as well,” said Pradip Patade, a nature enthusiast who has been visiting the park since 2009.
Rodrigues who has studied butterflies in the park as part of his research says he observed many rare species here. “There are butterflies, such as the Indian sunbeam, Plum Judy and Tawny Rajah in the park, rare for a manmade forest in the middle of the city to have,” he said.
Patade, who takes a keen interest in birds, spotted a small flock of flamingos near the park last year, apart from several different kinds of waders. “Last year, we also spotted a family of thick-knee bird, which is not frequently seen in other parts of the country,” he said.
Many trees from different parts of the country have been brought in for the benefit of students and also to increase the variety in the park. Among them is the Agaru tree, which the park got from Assam, the bark of the tree is used to make fragrances. The park also has the Raktha Chandanam tree, which is not generally found in the city.
“The Nature Park is completely a man-made park so, nothing has come up on its own, except a few trees. We added several trees and shrubs here, especially the ones that are not readily available, for the benefit of students who come here to research,” said Avinash Kubal, the deputy director of the park.
Speaking about the role of the park in the city, Kubal said: “A city needs the services of wildlife. For example, birds help control pests in the city, apart from helping in pollination. It is important for the ecology of the city. But for this, they need some shelter and the nature park provides that. To maintain the health of the city, you need places like these. It also helps in flood control during monsoon. In the park, the soil is exposed to the sky, allowing it to absorb the moisture. It also helps to regulate the temperature in the city.”
Kubal added: “When you have an urbanised area, there is a tendency that the temperature will increase. But the trees in the park help absorb the heat and also the pollutants.”