The varied flora of Rani Bagh's heritage botanical garden - Mumbai's largest green open public space
The botanical garden of Rani Bagh, established in 1861, has historically been home to a huge variety of flora. When we began our struggle to protect the botanical garden from the grave threat posed by the redevelopment plans of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, we acquired a range of data regarding the trees. At different junctures from a host of statutory bodies (BMC, the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee [MHCC] and the Central Zoo Authority), we acquired surveys and drawings under the Right to Information Act. We found that the BMC furnished conflicting and erroneous information. For example, the number of trees and species mentioned in different surveys varied, species mentioned in lists were not found on the ground, species present at the site did not find place in the lists and so on.
We consulted renowned botanist Dr. M.R. Almeida who sifted through the surveys and confirmed that the data was indeed riddled with inconsistencies and errors. Thereafter, we made several representations before the BMC and the MHCC to conduct a fresh tree survey. We argued that if the existing site plan showed the trees plotted or named erroneously, then the superimposed redevelopment proposal plan would surely yield misleading information.
Shockingly, apart from the tree census survey, the BMC had no data whatsoever on the huge variety of other plants (shrubs, herbs, climbers etc.) in the botanical garden. This serious lacuna was also pointed out to the BMC.
In February Dr. M.R. Almeida was appointed as an expert by the MHCC to help with the appraisal of the redevelopment proposal from the perspective of safeguarding the botanical garden. Dr. Almeida opposed the BMC's redevelopment plan and underlined the need for a fresh vegetation survey. On May 19, 2010 the MHCC rejected the redevelopment proposal and, among a host of other directions, recommended that a fresh flora survey be conducted. The BMC assigned the task of listing the vegetation diversity of Rani Bagh to Dr. Almeida who submitted a comprehensive report in October 2010 titled, 'Trees and Vegetation Survey of V.J.B. Udyan'.
Dr. Almedia's survey showed that Rani Bagh has 3213 trees (previously mentioned 3170) of 276 species (previously mentioned 226). Further, Rani Bagh houses a staggering 843 species of plants (trees, shrubs, climbers) belonging to 149 botanical families. The current survey also shows that the Blatter Herbarium has listed as many as 495 plant specimens collected from Rani Bagh since its inception to today. Significantly, numerous plants have been collected by such luminaries as Father E. Blatter, Father H. Santapau, Father R.R. Fernandes and Dr. M.R. Almeida.
The great floral diversity of Rani Bagh, its antiquity and heritage status and the inalienable fact that it is Mumbai's most visited park are the most compelling reasons to preserve this city jewel for posterity.