Entrance with two grand Baobaabs sentinels
Two baobabs standing as sentinels on either side
of the triple triumphal arch entrance

Why was the Save Rani Bagh movement initiated?

The Save Rani Bagh movement was begun in April 2007 by a group of nature enthusiasts who had banded themselves into an informal Committee to protect the heritage botanical garden of V.J.B. Udyan, popularly called Rani Bagh, from the forces of so-called redevelopment. After five years of sustained activity, in October 2012, the Committee undertook to formally register itself as a public charitable trust by forming the Save Rani Bagh Botanical Garden Foundation, with the express aim of consolidating the struggle to protect the heritage botanical garden, to generate greater public awareness about its many features and to strive to promote in myriad ways.

The Beginnings

The story begins in April 2007 when the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai announced a grandiose plan to install a zoo to “international standards” in Rani Bagh at a whopping cost Rs. 433 crore! The astronomical price tag and gushing media reports clearly indicated that construction activity was envisaged on an enormous scale - this on a 60-acre campus, home to 4,131 trees, where there was virtually no treeless space available for any kind of construction. Fearing that the proposed international zoo would obliterate the then 145-year-old heritage botanical garden (now 160 years old), gravely endanger its diverse flora and make the entry fee prohibitively expensive thereby denying entry to common citizens, we undertook to roundly oppose the proposal at all levels using every democratic avenue open to common citizens.

Japanese garden
Japanese garden
Protecting the botanical garden

We gathered, analysed and cross-verified voluminous data obtained under the Right to Information Act from all official bodies, and used it to buttress our stand that the botanical garden was at grave risk from the BMC's dangerous proposal. We represented before bodies such as the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), the central Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the State Government, the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC). Our hands were strengthened by public and media support as also the backing of a range of environmental and public space groups. A protracted struggle, during the course of which we also knocked on the doors of the Mumbai High Court under writ jurisdiction and attended several official hearings before the MHCC and the CZA, resulted in the vexed BMC proposal being rejected by the MHCC in March 2011. A revised proposal (which ignored many of the stipulations set by MHCC), was similarly rejected in November 2014. Consequent to our sustained campaign, in early 2016, the Municipal Commissioner initiated a process of dialogue with the Foundation and constituted a team led by a Deputy Municipal Commissioner to closely examine the proposed redevelopment Master Plan with the Foundation Trustees and modify it in the interest of the botanical garden. This was done by adhering to the Foundation’s main demand that renovated animal enclosures adhere to the footprint of existing animal enclosures thereby protecting the botanical garden space. From 2016 to 2020, the Foundation met the Municipal team each week, at first to re-work the Master Plan and thereafter, to ensure that the Plan was implemented faithfully and that the reconstruction process did not harm or endanger any trees. Many suggestions proffered by the Foundation regarding the heritage and botanical aspects of Rani Bagh were implemented by the Municipal Corporation. The struggle to protect the botanical garden is an ongoing one and forms a large chunk of our work. For details go to the link "Our Struggle".

A green and glorious avenue beckons as you enter
A green and glorious avenue beckons as you enter
Raising awareness about the botanical garden

We have constantly tried to raise public awareness about the botanical garden through publication of brochures, participation in seminars and public events and through educational activities such as nature trails and audio-visual programmes conducted for students and lay people. We have facilitated a slew of improvements and enhancements to the heritage and botanical garden aspects of the facility by affixing name plates on each tree (over 4,000), establishing a butterfly garden, designing information plaques on the historical, botanical, heritage and cultural aspects of the botanical garden.

Rani Bagh 150 Years published

We celebrated 150 years of Rani Bagh in 2012, by publishing a large-format richly-illustrated book titled Rani Bagh 150 Years showcasing Rani Bagh’s botanical, historical and cultural aspects. This exhaustive work, jointly published by BNHS, FoT and our Foundation carries essays by experts in their respective fields, and will remain a living testament to Rani Bagh’s unique character and legacy. In 2013 a Marathi translation titled Ranibaag 150 Varshe was also published. Both books can be found in most public libraries and libraries of many educational institutions. For details go to the link: Publications.

Brief Documentary Films on Rani Bagh

In March 2020 we produced a short film giving a glimpse into the botanical and heritage aspects of Rani Bagh (subtitled and narrated in English) called V.J.B. Udyan Zoo – Mumbai’s Only Heritage Botanical Garden and uploaded it on YouTube. The film, admittedly an amateur but passionate effort on our part, has some stunning visuals of Rani Bagh’s grand vistas and trees and serves as a good preview for someone who hasn’t visited. The same film, with Marathi subtitles and narration, was produced in November 2021. The Films can be seen from link: Video.

Celebrating 160 Years of the Botanical Garden

We plan to celebrate 160 Years of Rani Bagh with nature-cum-heritage walks, films, slide shows, seminars, publications and installation of information plaques. A few of these programmes will be jointly conducted with the BMC and some solely by us. The focus will be to inculcate among citizens a feeling of affinity and pride in Rani Bagh’s botanical garden which has contributed so much to the city and its inhabitants through its 160-year existence and to show how important it is that this rich legacy be safeguarded for future generations to enjoy and cherish.

Chief objects of the Foundation:

  1. To protect the entire area and Renaissance layout Rani Bagh's botanical garden and ensure that public access remains unhindered.

  2. To publish field guides, train volunteers and conduct educational/ awareness-raising events to inspire citizens, particularly the youth, to take greater interest in Rani Bagh's natural and built heritage.

  3. To enhance the value of the botanical garden and its floral diversity by planting uncommon tree species, assisting the Municipal Corporation in laying out specialized gardens preparing educational material, conducting workshops etc.

  4. To stress the need for open spaces and gardens in the city and harness all democratic methods to prevent felling of trees and encroachment of open public spaces and to promote the preservation of existing gardens, particularly botanical gardens.

Hutokshi Rustomfram
Shubhada Nikharge
Dr. Sheila Tanna
Katie Bagli
Hutoxi Arethna

Save Rani Bagh Botanical Garden Foundation