Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day: Khoai in Santiniketan

Khoai in Shantiniketan
(Picture from web)
Today is Earth Day. I had a meeting with Chief Town Planner and others this morning regarding the analysis on Khoai at Sriniketan Shantiniketan Planning Area that has been prepared by Department of Architecture and Town Planning of IIT Kharagpur. The issue revolves around defining Khoai properly for its conservation. The difficulty was that traditional land records do not have any classification called Khoai and so it can be difficult to identify requests for development by developers on land belonging to them but needed to be conserved - like, for example, water bodies cannot be filled up or destroyed even if it belongs to a private person and this is easy to monitor as land classification would show that it was a water body. The IIT Team, with a great deal of diligence that invokes geology, physiography, hydrology, pedology, vegetation etc, has just given a basic document that defines Khoai and then identifies 127 plots  (area 973 acres) in the mouzas of Ballavpur, Benuria, Kobimohanpur, Goalpara and Surul which comprise of Khoai land that needs to be conserved. In their recommendation, the IIT report has suggested that these eco-sensitive Khoai areas should be designated as "no development zone". Necessary action is being taken for statutory draft notification under the West Bengal Town and Country (Planning and Development) Act 1979.
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Here is an extract from the report by IIT:
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Khoai area becomes an ecologically sensitive area because of its diverse landscape, soil-scape, wildlife and historical value. This area already has many desirable ecological, cultural, historical and environmental attributes. These attributes contribute to the retention and creation of wildlife habitat, soil stability, water retention or recharge, vegetative cover and similar vital ecological functions. The micro-ecosystem of Khoai has ability to cope with environmental stresses – stresses like various human induced developments and their impacts; future impacts due to climate change; essentially the ecological resilience. The Khoai not only have ecological importance but also it has a lot of historical, cultural and economic importance as it has relation with Nobel Laureates, painters, artists, writers and many scholars. As a tourist attraction, it also has economic importance. The importance of this area may be assessed by taking all available ecological and cultural attributes into account.

 Khoai‘ word is derived from the Sanskrit ‗kshaya‘, meaning depleted/degenerated/ disfigured/denuded). It was used by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. He has used this word many of his literary works. Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore found solace and serenity in this barren land and purchased a land to build a house. This house was built in the early 1860s, and named Santiniketan which later denoted the entire area. A beautiful garden was laid out on all sides of the house. The top-layer of gritty dry soil was removed and filled with rich soil brought from outside and trees were planted for fruit and shade. Change in the environment had begun. In 1901, Rabindranath started his Brahmacharya Asrama, "flanked by Sal Avenue on the south and Madhavi creepers canopy covering the entrance gate. To the east was an orchard of mango trees and to the west were a few Palmyra palms, jamun, casuarina and some coconut trees. On the north-western outskirt of the old Asrama were the two ancient Chhatim trees. This was the area which held the ‗ Khoai‘ lands. In the mid-fifties, to prevent further erosion of the Khoai, soil embankments were raised which thereby created little lakes of moderate size. The bending of the Mayurakshi River some distance on the north-west brought Santiniketan, a branch of an irrigation canal which lead to the greening of Khoai and brought about significant changes in the environment. An extensive forest was later created where deer graze. This land of Khoai has become immortalized by the writings of Tagore and the paintings of Ram Kinkar Baij and Nandalal Bose.


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