Vol. 4 Num 175 Wed. November 19, 2003  
Star City

Neglect set to kill Baldha plants

Rare plants and flowers of the Baldha Garden may be soon become extinct. Pollution, high-rise structures obstructing sunlight and negligence are the major threats the garden is facing.

"We have already shifted saplings of most of the rare species to the Botanical Garden in Mirpur. The plants need sunlight. So the shade caused by the high-rise buildings and dumping of waste nearby can seriously hamper their growth here," said Superintendent of the Baldha Garden Md Delwar Hossain.

The centre of the problem is an under-construction 12-storey building overlooking the garden. "Labourers of construction site often throw liquid rice-starch smack on top of the conservatory house which houses exotic orchids and indoor plants," Hossain said.

Environmentalists, civil society groups and the local people had raised their voices against the damaging impact the high-rise could have on the garden but nothing has come out of it. The garden, located in Wari on 3.15 acres of land, is divided into two parts the Psyche and the Cybele.

The public entry to the Psyche has been restricted ever since it was built, while the Cybele is open for all from 8 am to 4 pm. The entry fee is Tk 5 per person. Zamindar of the then Baldha estate Narendra Narayan Roy Chowdhury initiated this family garden in 1909. He collected rare species of plants from different continents to enhance its grandeur.

The garden was completed in 1936. Narendra Narayan Roy Chowdhury passed away in 1942 and the Calcutta High Court looked after the garden until the Pakistani government took over. Baldha Garden became the responsibility of the Forest Department in 1962. The quality of maintenance of the garden is very poor.

There are about 18,000 plants, with 800 species of about 350 genera of 92 families. Only five gardeners have been employed to look after these precious plants and it goes without saying that such a small number of employees can't maintain it properly.

"Forty gardeners took care of the garden at its beginning. Although the number of trees and plants have increased over the years, the number of gardeners have been reduced to a mere five," said Hossain.

The surrounding land was lower than the garden when it was being prepared but over the years the height of the area has increased. The Psyche cannot discharge water during the rainy season anymore because it is on a lower plane now.

The concrete pathways in the garden are in a dilapidated condition.. The two-storey Tower House, from where the Zamindar gazed with pleasure at his garden, is now the office of the superintendent.

Cracks have appeared in the Tower House and its plaster is coming off. It has not been repaired since its construction.

"We have sent a project proposal of Tk 9 crore to the government. If it is approved then the Baldha Garden can still be saved as we will raise its ground level," Hossain said. "We have also proposed to raise the height of cactus, orchid and conservatory houses up to 40 feet to bring in adequate sunlight. The sunlight may salvage the damage done by the high-rise buildings," felt Hossain.

The Baldha Garden boasts of rare varieties of dendrobium, vanda and catlia. These are not found in any other place in Bangladesh. 2500 orchids, 3200 cactus, 3000 ornamental trees, 2200 aquatic plants, 400 creepers, 5800 bushes, 500 trees are also found in the Garden.

The Narayan Roy Chowdhury collected exotic plants like the famous Adansonia digitata from the tropics of Africa. Camellia japonica came from Japan while the Maranth and Anthurium arrived from South East-Asian tropical islands. The Araucaria was brought from Australia, the Euphorbia and cacti from Mexico, the Poplar from Pakistan, the Salix from Afghanistan, the Pothos from Java and Sri Lanka.

All these varieties make the garden a heaven for botany experts and tree lovers.

High-rise buildings surrounding Baldha Garden, left, keep sunlight from reaching its collection of plants, and varieties like rare orchids, right, are at risk of extermination. PHOTO: Syed Zakir Hossain