Category Archives: Green Initiatives / Environment

Indigo researcher digs out nuggets from past

Jenny Balfour-Paul at The Bengal Club. Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha

• A famous tea company in Calcutta traded in indigo in British India. That’s how its office on RN Mukherjee Road, Nilhat House, got its name.

•Opium and indigo growers were locked in constant rivalry before 1859

• Evidence of indigo dye has been even found in the remains of the Indus Valley civilisation


Such nuggets from history made up writer Jenny Balfour-Paul’s hour-long Bengal Club Library Talk, organised in association with The Telegraph, on November 8.

Balfour-Paul, who has researched indigo for decades, traced its history right from the early evidence to the exploitation faced by farmers in pre-Independence Bengal.

The session was peppered with anecdotes, humour and photographs of travel that she undertook since 2000 to bring together the indigo story.

The highlight of the evening was shots of a handwritten journal by 19th century British explorer Thomas Machell, who got the author inspired in the first place.

Machell had lived in Calcutta and worked in several indigo plantations in the 19th century. His journal traced his experience and the culture of the time, in the form of correspondence to his father in England.

Balfour-Paul shared with the audience how she found Machell’s journals by accident. “I was in the British Library surfing through old books and records when I found this valuable piece of history. It was the word indigo that made me reach out for it,” she said.

One line in the handwritten diary had particularly caught her eye. “I wonder if anybody will find these journals in the 20th century in a dirty library…” Machell had written. “I thought I was meant to find it,” added Balfour-Paul.

The author decided to travel to all those places where Machell had visited more than 100 years ago. She juxtaposed snaps taken during her visits to Calcutta, Bangladesh and also the Marquesas Island in French Polynesia with the British explorer’s illustrations.

Visits to Calcutta brought out some lesser-known facts. “Tea company J Thomas & Co would auction indigo. No wonder their office was called Nilhat House,” Balfour Paul said.

Another story was about her hunt for Machell’s grave. “Two of his journals are missing and I am still putting together the last six years of his life. I was not sure where he had spent his final years,” Balfour-Paul added.

India made Machell ill. He had left its shores for his native Yorkshire only to come back again. “My daughter and I went places in search of his grave, till we realised he had died near Jabalpur. One rainy day in Jabalpur we almost got ourselves arrested as we went grave hunting,” laughed the author.

She has documented many of her tales in her book, Deeper than Indigo: Tracing Thomas Machell, Forgotten Explorer.

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / A Staff Reporter / Saturday – November 11th, 2017

A north Bengal forest ranger people love to call ‘Singham’

In 2016, Sanjay Dutta and his team seized 14 leopard skins, 500 pieces of leopard and tiger bones, two rhino horns, live geckos, seven skins of clouded leopard and 11 jars of snake venom.

Ranger Sanjay Dutta (in black T-shirt) holding a baby crocodile seized from wildlife smugglers. (HT Photo)

In the forests of North Bengal, timber smugglers and poachers are in trouble. A 39-year-old forest ranger has come to be known as the ‘Forest Singham’ (lion of the forest) after having arrested hundreds of wildlife and timber smugglers.

As a ranger, Sanjay Dutta is in charge of 3,304 hectares of forest in the Belacoba range of Jalpaiguri district. The Chicken Neck area, a narrow strip of land lying adjacent to the international borders with Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan is especially known as a haven for poachers and smugglers. But with 15-20 seizures and 70-80 arrests a year, this has also become a happy hunting ground for the law enforcers.

In 2016, Dutta and his team seized 14 leopard skins, 500 pieces of leopard and tiger bones, two rhino horns, live geckos, seven skins of clouded leopard, 11 jars of snake venom and a cache of arms and ammunition.

In April this year, Dutta was made the head of a special task force set up to check wildlife smuggling in the forests of all the eight districts of north Bengal.

“Dutta has made numerous seizures and nabbed many offenders. He must have set a record by now. He is hardworking and brave and he has developed a network. Also, he maintains a very cordial relation with local people,” said M R Baloach, additional principal chief conservator of forest, West Bengal.

Sanjay Dutta receiving an award from chief minister Mamata Banerjee. (HT Photo)

A resident of Jalpaiguri, Dutta had to abandon his dream of becoming a police officer when his father, also a forest ranger, died at the age of 48. Dutta joined the department when he was only 18.

Ten years ago he was shot by timber smugglers while he was chasing a gang along the Teesta canal. One of the guards accompanying him was killed.

In 2016 Dutta became the only Indian recipient of the Clark R Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award given by Animal Welfare Institute of Johannesburg. But Dutta missed the ceremony because he could not afford the trip to South Africa.

In view of the threat to his life, Dutta, a father of two, is provided with security personnel but that has not deterred him from staying in touch with people. He has set up a primary school in the Lodhabari forest area. He partly funded it with the Rs 25,000 cash award he got from the state government. Dutta arranged for another Rs 1.2 lakh from the joint forest management committee and started the school.

Over the years, Dutta, has helped many poor people, cancer patients and school children. Local people try to return the favour and love. Jyotshna Roy, head of a self-help group for women in Lodhabari said, “We have never seen a forest officer like him. He does not mind taking loan to help people in need. On Bhaiduj he was given ‘bhaiphota’ by 50 women.”

“With Dutta around, we know the forests are safe,” said Tula Mohammed, president of Hiramari Joint Forest Management Committee.

Visitors to the forest are frisked by state armed police (SAP) personnel. Fifteen of them work with Dutta. Shiv Sambu Som, an assistant sub inspector of SAP, said, “Working with Dutta is a new experience. He takes care of the staff and other employees. We don’t mind putting in extra hours to assist Dutta in nabbing offenders.”

“Dutta always leads an operation from the front,” added Lalit Tiwari, a forest department beat officer.

The Forest Singham however remains grounded. “I am no hero or celebrity. I love to work for the people and that’s what I do,” he told HT.

source: / Hindustan Times / Home> Cities> Kolkata / by Pramod Giri, Hindustan Times / November 07th, 2017

Sculpture garden inaugurated in Kolkata on Wednesday

Kolkata :

A sculpture garden on the history of Bengal will be inaugurated by minister Firhad Hakim at New Town’s Eco Park on Wednesday.

The garden will have 12 murals that will focus on important individuals and their contributions to the country and society, as well as on different phases of the history like Shri Chaitanya, Battle of Plassey, Raja Ramohan Roy, renaissance in Bengal, Bankimchandra, the awakening of Bengal in India, Swami Vivekananada and his activities, Santhal rebellion, Indigo Movement, Subhash Chandra Bose and the Azad Hind Fauz, Shri Arobindo, Lalan Fakir, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Rabindranath Tagore and the Visva Bharati movement, Satyajit Ray and his world of films

The garden will also have 52 portraits, including Shri Chaitanya Mahapravu and Begum Rokeya and will have a light and sound show explaining the story in each of the relief panels.

The show will keep the audience moving from one panel to another in groups. There will also be benches for the elderly and children.

source: / The Times of India / News / by Suman Chakraborti / TNN / September 21st, 2017

Henry’s Island: A quaint getaway in West Bengal Spending a laid-back weekend close to Kolkata

Long, white beaches and a clear blue skyline is Henry’s Island’s distinct feature

Among the numerous beach destinations close to the eastern Indian metropolis, Kolkata, Henry’s Island is an offbeat choice for those looking for tranquillity.

In a lazy, white sand beach, where red crabs crawl, one could expect to find solitude and solace. Located at a distance of around 130 km from the bustling city of Kolkata, Henry’s Island is home to one such place. An area where government fisheries can be found, this tranquil destination is located close to another popular beach spot, Bakkhali.

Henry’s Island is still undisturbed and unspoilt by the markers of human civilisation – plastic packets, blaring sound systems or abandoned bottles. Pristine white sands are often hued by shifting tinges of red, owing to the crawling crabs, with the occasional fisherman walking by – this is the image that Henry’s Island leaves behind. The entrance to the beach involves a walk through a swamp of sorts, with a line of trees that hides the beach from the rest of the world.

For the traveller, who is looking for an experience that doesn’t involve heavy activity, Henry’s Island plays a welcome host. A watch tower, above one of the two guest houses on the location, is what visitors to nearby destinations frequent most. Views on a clear sky showcase the Sunderbans mangrove, which are located very close to the beach destination. One could also opt to walk around the beach and villages nearby.

Henry’s Island is also a great place to sample some seafood, which is locally grown and acquired. Locals are used to guests coming in to try the food at the Sundari Canteen, which offers the fresh catches. The Fisheries Department of the Government of West Bengal uses area for pisciculture and also takes care of forest conservation.

Getting there

Located some 130 km away from Kolkata, one would expect to reach the place in a matter of a short time. However, the journey by road takes much longer, owing to a change through a ferry which crosses the Hatania-Doania creek, which involves a long wait. There are also direct buses available, but since these buses ply once a day from Kolkata’s Esplanade bus depot, it is better to enquire a day in advance for seats and timing. To save some time, a local train can be taken from the Sealdah station in Kolkata, with a stop at Namkhana station. After this, a boat ferry, which costs a mere rupee or two per person can be taken, and on the other side, buses are available to drop at a location close to Henry’s Island, or one can opt for vans.

Getting to Henry’s Island is a slow journey, yet it provides the perfect window of transition from the busy city into the tranquil paradise. As a spot to unwind, relax, catch up on some reading or simply a chance to spend some time by yourself, Henry’s Island is a weekend getaway from Kolkata that reinvigorates the senses.

source: http://www.mediaindia.euc/ Media India Group / Home> News-India & You> Tourism / by Mehk Chakraborty / May 08th, 2017

Software for tiger watch in Buxa

Alipurduar :

The Union ministry of environment and forests has launched a software to ensure better monitoring of tigers that will be introduced in the Buxa Tiger Reserve by April.

The software has been made in collaboration with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for all tiger reserves in the country.

“MSTrIPES”, a hi-tech monitoring system, would be introduced in Buxa Tiger Reserve by April and each beat officer will get an Android phone with the software inbuilt that will help to monitor tigers in the habitat, Ujjal Ghosh, the field director of the BTR, said.

There are 42 beat offices in Buxa with one officer each.

MSTrIPES is a GPS-based software that will provide patrolling protocols and record wildlife crimes.

The software will also handle ecological monitoring and store data related to tiger monitoring.

Ghosh said: “The forest guards will have to fill in information about the area they patrolled and number of tigers spotted daily in the Android phones. This information will be passed by the beat officer to the forest range officer who will forward the same to the division officer, followed by the state government. The state will then pass on the information to the Tiger Control Cell of WII in Dehradun. Through this system, there will be a statistical analysis of data regarding protection and monitoring of the tigers.”

According to a forest officer, the BTR is important to the NTCA because ‘Tiger Augmentation Programme’ would be held here this year.

source: / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Front Page> North Bengal> Story / by Our Correspondent / Thursday – February 23rd, 2017

Air to water device produces purer drinking water

Kolkata :

The technical report of the functioning of the air to drinking water converting machine have been submitted by state Public Health Engineering department engineers.

Results from the Central Testing Laboratory have shown that the quality of water that is produced by the machine is many times purer and better than the typical water purifier devices.

The Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (Hidco) authorities are now planning to install a few such machines in different parts of New Town.

“A sample of water produced from the device was sent to the Central testing Laboratory through PHE engineers to find out how pure the water is. The water has been found to have purer quality than the normal water purifying devices. We are planning to install some such devices in Eco Park and other commercial spots,” said a Hidco official, adding that plans are on to install the device at the Mother’s Wax Museum canteen on a trial basis and a few other places like gate No.3 of Eco Park, police outposts, traffic signal kiosks and places inside Eco Park in phases.

source: / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Suman Chakraborti / TNN / February 13th, 2017

Horse carts get life… and a burden

Kulti :

A 50-year-old tanga (horse-drawn carriage) operator in Burdwan’s Kulti had been planning to sell his two horses and look for some other source of income as the business, in which his family has been involved for four generations, had fallen on hard times.

The same was the fate of around 30-odd tanga operators in Kulti town on the Bengal-Jharkhand border.

Pilfered coal being ferried in a tanga in Kulti. The faces of the operators have been blurred. /  Picture by Santosh Kumar Mandal
Pilfered coal being ferried in a tanga in Kulti. The faces of the operators have been blurred. / Picture by Santosh Kumar Mandal

However, the tangas have now got a new lease of life and the horses are back on their feet, ironically though, because they are being used to carry the burden of an illegal trade. Local coal pilferers have chosen the nearly forgotten mode of transport to ferry their booty to brick kilns and depots as tangas are much faster than bullock carts.

The horse-drawn carriage was introduced in Kulti by the British after James Erskine founded Bengal Iron Works.

The journey of the tanga since then has been chequered. From a symbol of glory during British rule, it became a popular mode of public transport. However, with the advent of modern means of transport such as buses, autorickshaws and totos, the tanga lost out.

Earlier, pilferers used to transport coal in trucks. However, because of a crackdown by police, they had chosen bullock carts and bicycles. However, bullock carts are slow and ferrying huge amounts of coal on cycles is a labourious and time-consuming task, prompting the pilferers to choose the tangas.

The owners of at least 30 horse-drawn carts in Kulti town have modified the vehicles so that they can be used to ferry coal. The hoods and seats have been removed to make space for coal sacks. Sources said the tanga owners charge between Rs 200 and Rs 250 for each trip.

Some residents alleged a section of policemen took bribes from tanga owners and pilferers.

Asansol-Durgapur police commissioner L.N. Meena said he did not know that tangas were being used to ferry pilfered coal and dismissed as “baseless” the allegation of bribe.

source: / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Front Page> Bengal> Story / by Abhijeet Chatterjee / Wednesday – August 17th, 2016

Eco-friendly transport in Kolkata’s Fort William

Battery-powered rickshaws wait for passengers in the Fort William campus in Kolkata.— Photo: Special Arrangement
Battery-powered rickshaws wait for passengers in the Fort William campus in Kolkata.— Photo: Special Arrangement

Battery-operated rickshaws, locally called ‘totos,’ are now allowed to ply in Fort William, the headquarters of Eastern Command, for civilians to commute in the 177-acre campus. The initiative has benefited those who work in the Eastern Command — both former and current employees — as they routinely visit Fort William, located on the eastern banks of the river Hooghly.

“Electronic rickshaws are immensely helpful. We had to walk a kilometre or two to reach the canteen from one of the main gates,” said Shibnath Ganguly, a retired Air Force staff and added: “It was an arduous walk, especially in the summer.” The e-rickshaws charge a subsidised rate of two rupees from each passenger for each trip.

235th anniversary

The rickshaws ply from 8 am to 8 pm inside Fort William, which completes its 235th year in 2016.

Opened in 1781, the fort, with a formidable arsenal and personnel presence, was named after William III of England. Many civilians, a few thousands in number, stay inside, while scores of employees daily report to their offices offices.“This is primarily a welfare service, not only for the benefit of the public but also for the boys who operate the rickshaws,” explains Col. Richard Fernandes, the Commanding Officer of 12 Garhwal Rifles, who ensures smooth operation of the rickshaw service. The drivers are civilians, selected by the Army, to run four such rickshaws.

“The Army has provided the e-rickshaws. The drivers are not only paid Rs.3,000 every month [by the Army] but also make additional money by providing the service to people,” said Col. Fernandes. The rickshaws are not allowed to go outside the Fort’s campus. However, that is “not a major concern” for Mritunjay Kumar, one of the drivers who covers 50-60 km every day. “I am earning about Rs. 100-150 per day and making about Rs. 8000 each month,” said 19-year-old Mr. Kumar, whose father is a civilian employee of the Army.

The officials believe that the earning of the drivers from the e-rickshaw project, promoted as “an eco-friendly” venture, will go up from localised tourism, as the Vijay Smarak [War Memorial] at Fort William was recently opened to the public.

The e-rickshaws charge a subsidised rate of two rupees per passenger per trip

source: / The Hindu / Home> National / by Special Correspondent / Kolkata – July 14th, 2016

Nezone-Ok Play in pact to make indigenous e-rickshaws

Kolkata :

City based Nezone Group and leading moulded plastic maker Ok Play has forged a partnership to manufacture indigenous e-rickshaws.

“We have collaborated with Ok Play to manufacture eastern region’s first ICAT (International Centre for Automotive Technology) and Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) approved e-rickshaw,” Nezone group managing director M L Beswal told .

As steel pipe producer it is forward integration for us as we will be providing the chasis of the e-vehicle, he added.

Calcutta High Court’s direction to the West Bengal government to form a high-power committee to take steps against unauthorized e-rickshaws comes as a boon for us, he said.

According to estimates, over a lakh e-rickshaws are plying across the state, most of which are either built with Chinese components and are unable to meet regulatory requirements.

PSU banks have also approved this product which will help buyers to get subsidised Mudra scheme loan to purchase the vehicle.

This is a complete green vehicle as even components used for body are all UV stable plastic body which is non-polluting, long lasting and edge free, Nezone officials said.

Feasibility is being carried out to make solar powered e-rickshaw as well, Benswal said.

He said if some direct fiscal benefit scheme is offered by the West Bengal government it would help in quick switchover to authorised e-rickshaw in the state.

The Delhi government has announced a subsidy of Rs 15,000 per e-rickshaw. The Maharashtra government has waived registration charges on such vehicles.

Several state governments have waived VAT on e-rickshaws. The union government has reduced central excise to 6 per cent on these battery operated vehicles.

source: / The Times of India / News Home> City> Kolkata / PTI / May 26th, 2016

The Butterfly Brigade of Kolkata

Roy teaching students about nature ina butterfly garden
Roy teaching students about nature ina butterfly garden

Arjan Basu Roy has a dream—to turn the City of Joy into the City of Butterflies. Luckily for Kolkata, it hosts at least a hundred butterfly species. Roy and his band of nature lovers are on a mission to transform, restore and conserve the disappearing urban wildlife in the city. As secretary of Nature Mates, one of Kolkata’s foremost nature conservation groups, Roy has overseen multiple conservation projects, the most prominent of them being Banobitan, India’s first open air butterfly garden.

Arjan Basu Roy
Arjan Basu Roy

Nature Mates was formally launched in 2006, but it started much earlier in 1993 when wildlife enthusiast Roy and his schoolmates set up a WWF Nature Club in their school to pursue their interest in wildlife. As part of the school’s nature club activities, Roy and his friends participated in wildlife rescue missions and wildlife monitoring. Growing up with financial constraints meant that Roy could not visit wildlife reserves, nature parks or forests as a child. “That was when I realised that I did not have to go to a forest to see wildlife. I could find it here, in my city, around me. It was then that I started following urban wildlife,” he says.

The club works in tandem with the West Bengal Forest Department in conservation activities. “A healthy butterfly population is an indicator of biodiversity. They are the best pollinators; birds, lizards and frogs feed on them, so conserving butterflies will give opportunity for an entire spectrum of other species to thrive,” says Roy. “This biodiversity can be initiated by everyone. Any area can be transformed into a butterfly habitat—a sprawling garden, a front yard, a terrace or even a balcony. Placing butterfly-friendly plants in a home or garden will augur these colourful biodiversity agents.”

Roy believes that affirmative action to preserve nature makes a bigger difference than protesting or criticising wrong-doings. According to him, token gestures of planting saplings when a tree is uprooted to make way for construction amount to very little in the big scheme of nature. “We offer assistance to builders in relocating trees that would otherwise have been uprooted and replaced by five saplings elsewhere,” he explains. Nature Mates addresses a wide spectrum of conservation activities, including animal rescue, restoring endangered animal species, cleaning wetlands around Kolkata, working with the forest department to set up butterfly gardens, wildlife surveys, installing bird nests, etc.

One of the key contributions of Nature Mates is the research the group undertakes on biodiversity, wildlife conservation. “We present the data in the form of usable information to guide people. This information is made available in English and Bengali to ensure even rural communities can make use of it,” he says.

Over the years, Roy has noticed a change in people’s attitudes that is positively impacting urban wildlife, “but it is very slow, much slower than needed”. To augment this progress, Roy and his team are continuing their mission to improve biodiversity in Kolkata, one butterfly garden at a time.

source: / The New Indian Express / Home> Magazine / by Venkata Susmita Biswas / April 16th, 2016