A sprawling water body with a park in the city’s prime Park Street locality, which had been padlocked, forgotten and rotted for three decades after an attempt to construct a cultural complex there by the Jyoti Basu government was foiled by a strident opposition, has been restored at last. Officials at Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) that undertook the revival project two years ago said Rawdon Square would be thrown open to citizens on Saturday.
Work on the unique restoration project began in September 2018 after the National Green Tribunal ordered the reopening of the square that had been padlocked since the early 1990s. The NGT order followed a petition by NGO Public against an attempt by Kolkata Police to convert a portion of the square into a parking lot for a school in the neighbourhood.
“We have been calling for the reopening of the park for years and had even organised petitions by nature club students and locals. But they were ignored till the NGT issued an order and we pressed for it to be executed. Mercifully, there were officials in KMC who felt the demand for returning a park to the neighbourhood made sense and took up the project,” recounted Bonani Kakkar of Public.
More than 100 trucks of construction debris that had been dumped in the disused park from neighbouring construction sites had to be cleared first. Piles that have been driven along the edge of the 2.5-acre water body to prevent soil erosion had to be removed. But a concrete wall that had been constructed in the middle, splitting the water body into two, was difficult to demolish and allowed to stay.
“Now there are two water bodies instead of one. All the trees like kadam, simul, champa, deodar and a clump of banana trees, which were there in the square, have been retained. In addition, fruit-bearing trees like mango and black berry have been planted to attract birds. A wild variety of Indian grass has been planted on the undulating landscape around the water bodies. A jogging and walking track has been created around the waterbody and wooden benches have been installed next to it,” said a KMC parks and squares department official. Tall grass along the bund that splits the waterbody has been retained to attract birds. Attempts are also underway to introduce plants that attract dragonflies in a bid to revive the square’s biodiversity. Kakkar, who visits the square at least two-three times a week, has already spotted several species of birds including Wagtail, Common kingfisher, Cormorants, Black-naped Oriole and sparrows.
Though the pandemic had stalled the restoration work, Kakkar began to follow it up with KMC’s project management unit (PMU) entrusted with the project execution immediately after unlock was announced.
It resumed once mayor Firhad Hakim and former municipal commissioner Khalil Ahmed, too, took interest in it. Hakim is set to inaugurate the square on Saturday.