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Once littered with all kinds of junk, the backyard of Samata Nagar police station today stands transformed. The 1.5 acre land is now a bio-diversity park that houses 1,800 varieties of trees and plants, attracting a vast array of butterflies, bees and birds. It took Afzal Khatri and his wife Nusrat five years to effect this metamorphosis. After spending 18 years in the United States, the Khatris wound up their business there to return to Mumbai in 2001 and help make a difference to living conditions in their motherland. “We were planning to do work in the fields of poverty eradication, education and corruption, but we didn’t want to get affiliated to any NGOs or get tagged to any political party,” says Nusrat, before going on to add, “Finally we zeroed in on environment since it allowed people to connect with you automatically.”
Their first interactions with the local administration not only fuelled their motivation, but also helped them trust the system more. Afzal says, “Kandivali east, the area where we live, was not very developed in the years 2001-2002. Though our colony was a nice place to stay, the nearby areas were very dirty. We first decided to clean up that place as an experiment and thankfully the Municipal Corporation was very helpful. They supported our garbage drive.”
Accompanied by another member from their society, Afzal and Nusrat visited the Samata Nagar police station one evening in 2009. The wanted to apply for permission to celebrate navaratri in their colony. Nusrat says, “We saw a few constables arranging a flower pot. The flowers were practically dead, so we offered to donate flowers to the police station if they promised to water and look after them.” The officers agreed and the Khatris then donated 30 pots to the station. Impressed by their dedication and love towards nature, Vinayak Mule, a police inspector at Samata Nagar, showed them the station’s backyard. It was filled with junk and vehicles which had been seized by the police, and the place gave off a terrible stench.
“Mule asked us if we can do something about it and we happily accepted this challenge. Mule asked us to visit the place during the day to take a proper look at its topography,” says 65-year-old Afzal. “When we visited the backyard the next morning, we realised the place had housed garbage and junk for more than 20 years, and it was nearly impossible to clean up, but we had taken the task as a challenge. We got support from Mule and other police staff.”
Nusrat admits that she was pleasantly surprised to see how receptive and responsive the BMC was after hearing of their efforts. “They provided us with cleaning instruments and promised to lift the junk we removed from the police station. The principal of Thakur College sent us 40 students every day. They would clean for three hours. Those students came daily for almost three and a half months and help clear space for the planting of trees and plants. Our main concern was to transform the 1.5 acres of land without changing the ecological system.”
During the course of their work, Nusrat and Afzal received help from several people who used to visit the police station for their personal work and were impressed by what the couple was doing for society. An anonymous contributor, for instance, donated a truck of fresh clay, while another gave 1,000 bricks.
Currently, the Samata Nagar police station bio-diversity park comprises approximately 1,800 different varieties of plants and trees. Parts of the park have been used for rain water harvesting and the fertilisers used here are made from natural resources. Azal says, “Every week, a number of students from different schools visit the park to learn about environment. Several foreign delegates and researchers come to see how a bio-diversity park can be made without damaging the ecological system in any way.”