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Indian Forest Service, one among the trinity of ‘All India Services’ is a unique one. It is the only service in government sector that brings you so close to nature that you inevitably become a vociferous advocate for its conservation and protection. Here is sharing a small success story one could execute in reviving a wasteland into a green, breathing space!
It has been 4 years since I joined the service, and Parvati Division is my second posting after Kullu. Having taken charge in January this year, the first task was to assess the ground situation in different areas of my jurisdiction. On one such field visit very near to the confluence of the mighty Beas and Parvati rivers, we came across a tract of forest land dumped with garbage and inflicted with heavy weed overgrowth. This was also a cause of riverside pollution. The staff informed that the space was being misused by anti-social elements both during day and night time to bide their time and were also involved in substance abuse. The threat of encroachment also lay ahead in future. Wanting to do something about the array of challenges, I wondered how we could reclaim the forest land into something safe and get some funds into picture for the execution. In my previous posting too, I worked on a 15 hectare wasteland project in Manali that was being developed into an ecotourism project which gave me the confidence of enabling the current possible revamp too.
Interestingly, the Government of Himachal Pradesh around the same time declared its intention to set up ‘Swarnim Vatikas’ across the state as part of Himachal’s 50 years statehood celebration. With the two complementary ‘problem-solution’ situations arising at the same time, we decided to transform this 1 hectare of wasteland into an eco-friendly sprawling, green urban space for town dwellers and nature seekers alike. Christened the green zone as ‘Sangam Swarnim Vatika’ for it stands at the confluence of the mighty Beas & Parvati rivers. If you visit today, the view is serene, with no evidence of a shabby dump yard that once held ground here. Instead, it has been replaced with a beautifully landscaped garden, with a variety of tree species, creepers, shrubs, herbs along the area, frequented by a variety of beautiful birds.
Getting into action
The first step was to clear the area of its waste pile, cactus and weeds. My enthusiastic forest guard efficiently organized the clean-up. Almost 25 tippers of these were collected and disposed off. The organic waste was turned into processing vermicompost in our nearby nurseries. We checked the quality of soil by deep digging and it was found to be in fairly good condition for plant growth. After mixing with some fertile mountain soil and humus, the soil was readied.
Before planting, the second step was to ensure the protection of the 2.5 acre area from both grazing/biotic pressures and movement of anti-social elements. In part RCC fencing and inter-link chain fencing was carried out for the entire space. Additionally, CCTV cameras were also installed nearby for monitoring purpose.
Plantation, Landscaping – The Up-cycling Tactic
One would like to confess here that my I-pad (which I use at workplace to minimize paper use ) was a huge help in designing the whole look of the Swarnim Vatika. After spending sometime exploring and reading on the local ecology and plant suitability of the ecotone area (Riverine), we identified species of trees, shrubs and ornamental ones that could be planted in the park.
In phase I, we have planted over 400 species of native varieties such as deodar, silver oak, horse-chestnut, jacaranda, golden shower, bougainvillea, rose, thuja, cycas, ribbon plant, gladiola, peach, apricot, plum and pomegranate, among others. 200+ will be planted by the coming monsoon season. We have created grooves of some of these species that can be enjoyed by visitors in future.
For landscaping purpose, we decided to go the up-cycling way in three aspects. One, the discarded or used slates, a stone with which houses are made in the hills, from the neighboring settlement were up-cycled to create the walking trails. Personally, there was great joy seeing the local ‘Dhrub’ grass sprout in between those slates within 2 months and some bouts of rainfall.
Two, only riverside stones were used to landscape and beautify the Vatika. In addition to being eco-friendly, they enhanced the natural riverside view. Three, signages regarding nature awareness and seating are being installed using the driftwood that we obtained during last monsoon. As we look forward to the launch in another three months, the final touches to gazebos and entrance gates would be given as well.
Impact and future
Parvati Valley is a hugely popular tourist hotspot with ample of breathtaking destinations. The Vatika however was primarily created for the local people who actually don’t have enough urban walking or recreational vistas. Interestingly, we have already started receiving our avian visitors at the park – including yellow-billed blue magpie, parakeets, Eurasian hoopoe, barn swallow and doves. I hope that the zone hosts more of them in variety and numbers as the greens expand.
In order to ensure continuity and that the place is well taken care of even when we are transferred else (well, the reality of services! ) , we shall be soon involving (post pandemic) the local panchayats, Mahila Mandals as well as youth groups to continue the greening and cleaning drives, and let them build a sense of ownership for the area.
Next up, we are identifying more such degraded areas in Parvati jurisdiction that can be converted into green zones. With funds and local support in place, this initiative will help revamp more such areas and enrich the environment. The Vatika is an example where the Forest department demonstrates the win-win scenario of nature conservation and development, and I hope that such efforts gain traction elsewhere too, for nothing is more satisfying than giving it back to Mother Earth!
The work got featured at The BetterIndia ! Here is the link : https://www.thebetterindia.com/255576/ifs-hero-aishwarya-raj-himachal-pradesh-parvati-valley-green-zone-barren-dumpyard-waste-material-upcycle-forest-department-environment-conservation-hero-him16/