Olive Green effect

In times when the best of environment conservation strategies are crumbling under the weight of apathy  and lack of effort, Chandimandir Cantonment in the heart of Panchkula is an example.
Aditi Tandon

Olive Green effectIn Chandimandir Cantonment, the Army rank and file work overtime to give nature and its manifestations their rightful due and the greens smile at you from massive distances.

Respect for environment is evident in every endeavour of the Army command-whether it is the installation of signposts that create awareness about nature conservation or the environment friendly label, which the Cantonment's golf course bears.

Unlike other golf courses that suffice to care for the game alone, this one is heartwarmingly named the Shivalik Environmental Park. Its roughs are developed not to save the golfer's ball but to serve as genuine forested tracks where animals and birds can come and go. The quality of ecological preservation in the expanse is superior as it can get; its extent as massive as can be.

Not surprising then that the 300-acre stretch inside the seemingly regimented area is the favourite haunt of all species of wild animals inhabiting the lower Shivaliks. Even the birds take a leisurely walk in Chandimandir greens as we would take one in our backyard. About 15 species of birds are regular visitors to the Shivalik Environmental Park.

Among its rare visitors is the nearly extinct King vulture which makes an occasional appearance at the Cantonment's abattoir complex. Step Eagles from Central Asia have also been spotted in the area, which may well outsmart Chandigarh's Sukhna Lake as the preferred destination of migratory birds.

Not just that, it easily passes off as the best privately maintained nature biodiversity niche in this part of India.

The Shivalik Environmental Park: The Army creates a breathing space in a concrete jungle.
The Shivalik Environmental Park: The Army creates a breathing space in a concrete jungle.
ó Photos by Pankaj Sharma

It has developed the three factors, which experts consider critical for biodiversity conservation-rich grazing grounds to serve as feed for animals, ample water sources to quench their thirst and dense forests to facilitate breeding. Chief Wildlife Warden UT Ishwar Singh also rates Shivalik Environmental Park high on the yardstick of ecological wealth. With all important elements present in abundance, the Park naturally serves as a haven for wild animals, especially during summers when other sources of water dry up.

In their endeavour to conserve rainwater by recycling it, the Environmental Park authorities have dug 13 ponds in its complex. Unlike most golf courses that use drinking water for irrigation purposes, this one exploits rainwater, which it collects in the ponds. Lt Gen P.K. Grover, Chief of Staff, makes a humble reference to the effort, "We developed the rainwater harvesting technique to keep our greens secure and our wildlife comfortable. Here human beings live in perfect harmony with birds and animals." Even sewage water gets recycled at the water treatment plant inside the cantonment.

Earlier, it would simply get drained down to the Ghaggar, causing pollution, even floods. Given the Army strategy of exploiting rainwater for irrigation of the golf course, the risk of floods in areas around the Ghaggar has also lessened.

Even the quality of subsoil has improved incredibly over the past when the area was considered unfit for growth of grasses, let alone trees. Colonel Gurdial Singh, Secretary, Shivalik Environmental Park recalls, "The area was most infertile when we started. First, we covered it with two feet of fertile soil imported from outside. With great care and persistence, a rough, stony patch was transformed to make space for the greens that suited both nature and the game."

The Environmental Park evolved gradually under the supervision of Army Commanders who were unequivocal in their support of wildlife and ecology. The past Army commander, presently Chief of Army Staff Gen JJ Singh took personal interest in the development of the Park on sustainable basis. The process of conservation and expansion of greens at present is being taken forward under the command of Lt Gen S. Pattabhiraman, GoC-in-C, Western Command.

Besides rainwater harvesting, the Army is also working in the following areas to fulfil its responsibility towards nature conservation-tree plantation, protection of wild animals and forest cover, prevention of poaching, treatment of sewage water and arboriculture to maintain the aesthetics of the Park. At several places the greens house miniature gardens that shine with a riot of colours. These spots have been developed through arboriculture. The idea is to break the monotony of space while the golfer hits his ball.

The belt is also rich in plantation, and features all varieties of ornamental trees. A series of trees greet you wherever you go. They are gulmohars, jacarandas, acacia biflora, silver oaks, kachnars, neem, and shisham. Sandalwood and teakwood trees, as well as small ornamental bushes like bougainvillea and palms, dot the compound.

Ever since 1968 to 1971, when this cantonment came up, the process of tree plantation has gone on uninterrupted. Eighty per cent of the area has been covered with trees. This gap in the target plantation would not have existed had it not been for wild animals eating away trees.

Although tree guards have been provided for protection purposes, they cannot ensure 100 per cent survival rate. To tackle this problem, Lt Gen Pattabhiraman recently ordered the size of tree guards to be increased, as the existing ones are not sufficient to protect trees from wild animals.

Conservation strategies in the Chandimandir Cantonment are thus sensitively determined, and never thrust brutally on the surroundings. Killing of wild animals and birds is strictly prohibited on the campus, so is poaching and wood cutting. Trial of any offence against nature is a norm here, and not an exception as in the government realm where people get away even after killing the national bird.

The Shivalik Environmental Park is one of the richest biodiversity areas when seen in terms of acreage. It can put the best government establishments to shame with the flourish of its greens and the richness of its wildlife.

Says Let Gen Baljit Singh (retd), a keen nature observer, "The quality of green cover in open spaces at Chandimandir is far more superior than that in government-maintained areas. Even the quality of canopy of tree cover and the ground flora under the trees is rich. Inside the greens, there is no sign of regimentation. There is only a way of life that facilitates harmony between man and animal. It's a pleasure to see how an operational command committed to the country's defence fulfills its responsibility towards nature."

The idea of making the Army personnel aware of the significance of ecological conservation began way back. But it was institutionalised under the leadership of the Late Gen Sunderji.

At the Shivalik Environmental Park where 45 people work to maintain the greens on a daily basis, we see glimpses of Army's commitment to nature. Another attraction of the Park is its nursery that grows the twiff dwarf variety of high Bermuda grass, considered the best golf course grass in the world. The nursery earlier supplied stocks to Army Golf Course in New Delhi. It raises crops every season.

At another front, the process of digging up water sources for rainwater harvesting is going on. About three more ponds will be ready to collect rainwater in due course of time. Wild animals will then have three new biodiversity rich spots to visit.

A haven for biodiversity

Thanks to its rich biodiversity, Shivalik Environmental Park attracts the following birds on a regular basisóblack partridge, blue rock pigeon, ringed parakeet, pied kingfisher, white-breasted kingfisher, Indian robin, ruddy shelduck, grey-leg goose, peafowl and pintail.

The animal visitors to the Park include sambhars, wild boars, black bucks, blue bulls, Indian hare, jackals, spotted deer, fox, goral and hog deer, among others.

So thick is the visitation of wild animals by the night here that the past GoC-in-C Western Command Lt Gen JJ Singh used to say, "During day time we take over the golf course. At night we hand it out to them (read wild animals)."