Patna, Can we have this Campaign?

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I think my native city, Patna, needs a surgery. You may question my wisdom and have every right to do so – after all Patna of today is much different from Patna of a decade back.

There are several projects which, once completed, have the potential to change the face of Patna. And yet I cry for an operative procedure to rescue the city I love (actually it needs many significant treatment sessions but I would raise one important issue in this post).

Consider these news items: According to a WHO study, Patna is the 2nd most polluted city in the world next only to Delhi.  This summer, for a considerable period, Patna (in fact the entire Bihar) recorded some of the highest temperatures in the country. The quality of air in Patna has deteriorated at an alarming rate.

Patna, as far I remember, was always a city with dusty roadsides but the rapid spree in construction (massive projects like roads, flyovers, bridges, museum, convention center, malls etc.) has taken its toll on the quality of air. Add to this the ever-increasing load of vehicles and you have a recipe for perfect disaster.

A recent article in Times of India suggested that the air pollution in Patna has increased the risks for respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. If the stakeholders fail to intervene at this juncture Patna may, in not too distant future, become entirely inhabitable.

Heat wave is not new to Patna – the deadly ‘Loo’ has always inconvenienced its citizens but over the years (from what I have heard from my relatives) the summer has become more and more cruel. It is probably also due to the fact that Patna, in its zeal to catch up with its more developed counterparts, has ‘concretified’ barely dropping a sweat on the loss of its green cover in the process.

I am not aware of all the measures that would curb the air pollution (especially the particulate pollution) but am certain that presence of more trees would help. Trees would also help in bringing some respite from the sweltering heat (this is a no brainer).

I once had a mail communication with one of the leading lights on plantation over the possibility of planting trees in Patna – he appreciated the intention but simultaneously pointed out that the current Patna does not have the space for trees. I differed with him – wrote an article which remained confined to my blog and PatnaDaily (which has been generously publishing my thoughts for long).

What I had presented in that article was a concept which unfortunately did not come to the notice of relevant stakeholders – I would try this one more time. This article would build on the concept of my previous article and try to formalize a draft blueprint out of it.

pdboulevard2pdboulevard2Step 1 – Feasibility: As I have already stated, an expert suggested that the feasibility of giving a green cover to the current city of Patna is not high. I differ but cannot suggest a way out. We can only be helped out by experts – City Planners. City Planners can map the entire city ward by ward, locality by locality and suggest the ways to carry out the plantation.

Problem Statement: Why would City Planners do that? We would have to incentivize their efforts - Any agency/firm or group of individuals carrying out the work would have to be paid. This would require significant money which would have to come from institution(s) and not individuals.

The environment and forest department can take up the cause or companies associated with Bihar and inclined towards CSR can chip in. These companies are to be identified and then approached for partnering in this mission. Some of the names which come to the mind are Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam Ltd. and Amrapali Group (I do not know whether they are into CSR). I would try to share this article with the chairman of BRPNN and wait for his reaction.

Step 2: If feasible, then what? A campaign has to be built around it. It would require the support of various organizations/institutions, leaders as well as the citizens.

- Step 2.1: Planting any tree would not do. Plantation should be done in the way that it enhances the aesthetics of the city. Each area should have a mix which would create a separate identity for that area – the town planners can suggest the mix in consultation with the people of the locality. I remember the Gulmohar trees of my locality even now and those are good memories. Patna of future should be a city of many things – and one of those should be ‘the city of boulevards’.

- Step 2.2: Creating Awareness and Engaging Citizens would be a tough task. This is the responsibility of media. I do not know how they would come together but all the newspapers/regional channels and FM station(s) should come together to promote the cause. Patna has 72 wards – suppose every day, each newspaper carries out the current state of 2 wards. This would mean coverage for 36 days. The next 36 days then should be dedicated to illustrate how the wards would look after transformation. The images of transformation, obviously, would come from the City Planners undertaking the task. This would also be an incentive to them as they would get adequate publicity.

Plantation in huge numbers would require volunteers. Students should be engaged to spread the word. Institutions like Taru Mitra which are already working in this field should lead from front in this cause. If 10,000 students come on board, you would have earned the support of 30,000 at least (include the parents). The leaders, especially the MPs and MLAs, from the area should come out and support the cause. It would also help them to connect with the common people once again. They should also ask their supporters to volunteer for the plantation.

pdboulevard3pdboulevard3I would try to send this to important leaders of the state (if I get hold of their email IDs) and ask for their support. Probably this may give some a cause worth fighting for. Create a buzz by promoting participation. Appeal the citizens to participate and play an important role in changing the face of the city. We would not like to handover a decaying city to our next generations. People want to come out and be a change agent. A few days back, Telegraph carried a report on how residents near Mangles Tank joined hands to clean it. Popular local channels like Radio Mirchi Patna should influence the people to come out and register for the plantation event. Take a nominal charge for registration (the channel(s) can have a week of Road Show through a van promoting their brand), say Rs. 10 or 20, which would go on to fund for the cost of saplings (it may not be enough but anything is better than nothing).

- Step 2.3: Each sapling would have a cost. Sapling (and too of specific species) would have to be arranged. Appropriate agencies and institutions would have to be reached out for help and coordination should be made to arrange the required number of saplings. Institutions like Rotary Club, Lions Club etc. having experience in running social campaigns should come together and take this responsibility. The cost of the samplings would have to be arranged through registration campaign and donations from citizens and corporate alike. State government should also come forward to support the initiative.

- Step 2.4: Local administration/authorities would have to be involved from the beginning. Patna Municipal Corporation, DM’s Office and even the Police would have to be involved from the very beginning so that they are aligned with the execution of the campaign. Their support would also ensure that the actual plantation drive takes place without any hassles.

- Step 2.5: With the involvement of so many stakeholders there would be chaos. We would need someone to manage and lead the campaign. One of the stakeholders should take the lead. It could be anyone (but with strong credibility and proven capability) – DM Office, a movement like TaruMitra, social organizations like Rotary Club or Lions Club, media organizations like HT Media, Telegraph, Radio Mirchi or even PMC (despite failing the City many a times).

Step 3: On Plantation Day. If we succeed in Step 1 and Step 2, we would indeed witness the momentous day when a historical city (once the greatest city of the world) will take its first step to reclaim the right to have a dignified and healthy life. The run up to this day (I think the entire campaign duration would be anything between 3-6 months) would require huge preparations:

Check 1: Having adequate numbers of saplings Check 2: Ensuring that saplings are in right places Check 3: Ensuring adequate numbers of volunteers to plant those saplings Check 4: Ensuring maximum buzz so that the entire city is out on that memorable day to celebrate the event. One should promote this day akin to a Global Event of a sort.

How many trees would have to be planted on that day to get into the record books? I do not know but I would like close to 1 Lakh tree planted on that day. What number do you have in mind?

Step 4: What after Plantation? Plantation would be the easier part; keeping the trees safe (from animals and weather) would be much difficult. We would need caretakers; we would need trained gardeners.

Considering the length and breadth of Patna (and the whopping number I have in mind… 1 lakh!!), I think we would need at least 12 gardeners (6 wards each) with an average salary of Rs. 10,000 per month. It would mean an expenditure of Rs. 1.2 lakh per month. Even if we take care of the trees for a year only, it would mean a cost of 14.4 lakhs.

Who should take care of this cost? I think PMC as it is responsible for taking care of the city. The plants/saplings would initially need barricades as safeguard from stray animals – this again is a cost (and a significant one). Who will pay for this one? I will leave that to you. After all I cannot answer each and every question.

Step 5 - Life after Plantation: We would start breathing a little better air (and over time much better). Summer would still come to haunt us but our cool friends (trees) would be there to thwart most of its attacks. While we would be on road, trees would connive and display an amazing view to us – a view which we would be proud of; a view which we would carry in our hearts for long.

I am trying to sell you a dream - a dream of a better Patna. A Patna you would be proud of handing over to next generation. A Patna which you would build along with fellow citizens. I agree there are challenges but that could be sorted out by mutual discussions.

The first step should be that the DM (or an editor of a newspaper or the convener of Taru Mitra or anyone with considerable influence) brings together the stakeholder and discuss the issue of plantation in the city. If this proposal holds any merit then discuss it else adopt a new blueprint but work towards restoring the greenery of the city.

P.S: I would also try to reach out to non-resident Patna'ites to find out what they feel about the idea. As always, though I have laid down the thoughts with Patna in mind, this would be applicable to any city.

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