In the first week of August 2022, the Urban Resilience team of Bal Raksha Bharat, inaugurated ‘Shabuj Dweep’, a green space within the premise of Urban Primary Health Centre (UPHC) of Ward 65 with active support from Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Health Department, Solid Waste Management Department and Councillor, Ward 65. The inaugural event was attended by, Smt Nivedita Sharma, Councillor, Ward 65; Sri Sushil Kumar Sharma, Ex-MMIC & Ex-Councillor, Ward 65; Mr. Manzoor Nasim, Asst director Borough VII; Dr. Kakoli Mukherjee, Medical Officer, UPHC 65; Mr. Pradeep Kumar Mishra, Head, Programme Management, Bal Raksha Bharat; Ms. Susmita Guha, West Bengal, Bal Raksha Bharat; Mr. Manish Thakre, Head, urban Programme and Policy, Bal Raksha Bharat.
The space, situated at 9B, Tiljala Shibtala Lane, near Kustia, is a densely populated slum in the heart of the city of Kolkata. The very concept had emerged from a dire need to convert the space within the health centre which was being used by the surrounding communities as an open dump yard into an oasis of greenery which would be maintained by the community members themselves. Creative Footprint, a specialized agency in tactical intervention, helped in designing the green space and supervising the execution. Greenwood, another agency based in Kolkata, was entrusted with executing the design at the field level. It has been exemplary model of collaboration, innovation and creativity.
Historically, the space used to be a pond wherein debris such as construction rubbish and domestics waste were dumped on a regular basis thereby turning it into a solid open disposal ground. Gradually, it turned into an unhygienic space for children, adolescents and senior citizens, patients visiting the centre as well as the health staff who provide services to the community.
The ground attracted the attention of youth engaging in unsafe practices such as substance abuse and gambling after dark. In order to help in the positive transition of the space, local youth club members, community group leaders from mothers’ groups, children’s groups and youth groups, residents of surrounding households, Ward heath office staff, conservancy staff as well as ward councillor and her associates worked together relentlessly with Bal Raksha Bharat Urban Resilience Team to motivate the community to stop throwing garbage in the space. The campaign in the community has already sparked a positive shift in the attitudinal mind-set of the community and their participation has ensured a sustainable green space which could be utilised by them. Through tactical intervention approaches, environment friendly and hazard-free waste materials were used to transform the space into an accessible and a child friendly area.
The journey has witnessed several turns and milestones starting from identifying the space, reaching a consensus, approaching the KMC and Municipal Health Officer for approval, finalising the designs, organising campaigns, mobilising communities, many of whom had inhibitions about the success of such initiative, cleaning the debris and finally setting up the entire space through innovative designs and immense hard work. The whole process took about 15 months, out of which, the last two months were actually devoted for construction related work. This indicates the thorough process required for such an intervention which is the first of its kind in an urban, densely, populated slum of a metropolitan city like Kolkata.
Srimati Nivedita Sharma shared “I want this ward to be a model, child friendly ward and it can only be possible when, you, the community, take charge in protecting it.”
Mr. Sushil Kumar Sharma believes, “children are the ‘raja’ and ‘rani’ of the Shobuj Dweep because they will protect this place and make it sustainable.”
Mr. Mazoor Nasim, said, “this initiative is a very good example which can be replicated in all wards.”
Dr. Kakoli Mukherjee said, “We have achieved the impossible by converting this space from a dump yard into a green space and we thank the team who worked as ‘Aladdin ka Chirag’.”
Mr. Pradeep Kumar Misra from Bal Raksha Bharat said, “This initiative is an excellent example of joint efforts of the community. We now need to think of how to make it sustainable.”
Ms. Susmita Guha, said, “We, as Bal Raksha Bharat, advocate for Children’s Rights and you as responsible adults of the community can help us in doing so. This Green Space is a perfect example of one of those rights to have a clean and a green environment.”
“The United Nations General Assembly has declared that everyone on the planet has the right to a healthy environment, a move backers say is an important step in countering the alarming decline of the natural world.” – Published as a story on 28th July 2022 in UN Environment Programme, Environmental Rights and Governance