The residential hub of Jayanagar was once known for its nurseries. But where have all those nurseries gone today? Is the era of neighbourhood nursery over?
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As you take the one-odd kilometre walk from Siddapura all the way up to NIMHANS, you can see a number of nurseries on your way, interspersed with buildings and houses. But, if you were taking a stroll down that path five years ago, all you could see were nurseries. The nurseries took up more than 200 acres of land then. But today the number has dwindled down to a mere 20 acres. Thanks to high-rise buildings and the real estate boom, things have changed. Jayanagar which once boasted of about 200-300 nurseries, today barely has 60-70 nurseries, according to the Nurserymen Cooperative Society Limited, a wing of the State Department of Horticulture.
The Ramdas nursery near Ashoka Pillar is run by Govindaraj. They make anything between Rs. 3000-7000 per month.”Business has become dull. Many builders are taking over nursery land”, he says. The Ramdas Nursery is one of the few nurseries left in the area. These privately owned businesses are fast vanishing. The green belts of Siddapura village and the rest of Jayanagar have slowly disappeared. Dr G K Vasanthkumar, Director, Department of Horticulture, says there is very little that can be done to stop urban growth. “We do give them subsidies. But most are moving to the outskirts of Bangalore”, he says.
Fighting for a ‘green’ cause
BLG Rao, coordinator, First Block Residents for a Cleaner Environment (FORCE), is one of the few people who fought for the cause of nurseries. It is because of the increase in the cost of living, he says. “Real estate people offer big money to these owners and use the land to construct multi-storeyed buildings”, Rao says. He explains that nurseries were developed on agricultural land. Since one cannot sell agricultural land, it is converted to non-agricultural land, which is permissible. This land is then sold in exchange for a lump sum.
About four years ago, Rao approached the then BMP Commissioner, MR Sreenivasa Murthy, who said that he was unable to do anything as there was nothing illegal in the entire process. He later spoke to another BBMP Commissioner, K Jairaj, who issued an order saying permission should not be given to nursery owners to convert their land and sell it. But that hasn’t stopped them. Since these are privately-run nurseries, the owners are free to use the land as they wish. Says Prakash, owner of Sri Mallika Nursery in Jayanagar, “We have had this nursery for more than 60 years. It has been passed down several generations. The government isn’t doing anything for us. We have taken a loan from a bank to run this place”.
Most of the owners of private nurseries are members of the Nurserymen Cooperative Society Limited. Secretary of the society, M K Jayarame Gowda, says the reason for nurseries shutting shop is because of labour problems, escalation of land prices in the area and marketing problems. He says, “We do not have a proper nursery policy or regulation”. He suggests that the government should set up nursery parks in different zones just like IT parks and allow nursery professionals to run units here. On their part, the society can help the owners with marketing, but say that there is a lack of funds and land. “When nurseries provide a congenial environment, why not develop them?” he asks.
A process of evolution
Dr S V Hittalmani, Additional Director of Horticulture (Fruits), thinks otherwise. “It’s a process of evolution. Most of these owners are moving to the outskirts where they have farms. It’s a good thing. Within the city there are water and labour problems. So we are letting them go”, he says. In the mid-90s, Dr Hittalmani, then serving as Joint Director (Development), led a team to present a draft for the Karnataka State Private Nurseries Regulation Act to the government. But the act was never passed and remains in the form of a bill.
Dr Hittalmani says he proposed the Act in order to control the quality of plants and to regulate trading (as there was a lot of illegal trading in this sector). But the law ministry was against the Act, saying it would restrict the nurserymen since they are financially backward. Though the government said it would be a form of harassment to the nurserymen, Dr Hittalmani says there is a difference between regulation and harassment. Now, more than a decade later, as departments have changed, there are no plans to revive it.
Additional Director of Horticulture (Farms & Nursery), Dr K Ramakrishnappa says the Act would have only curbed the nurserymen. “I am against the Act. We have better plans for them. We want to issue quality certificates like the ISO. This will help regulate trading”, he says.
But nurserymen, like Govinda who runs the Asha Nursery Home, say that the government does not do anything for them. “Land prices have gone up. That is why people end up selling their nurseries”, he says.
Will they or won’t they?
While Gowda is optimistic that the nurseries in Jayanagar will not vanish altogether, Dr Hittlalmani says there is no need to shed tears as they are moving to the outskirts. Nurseries are no longer relevant, he points out. “In the 1960s when the BDA wanted to acquire this nursery land to make an extension in Jayanagar, it was the department of horticulture that saved them. Even if the Nursery Regulation Act doesn’t come into being, the National Seed Act 2004 will be revised by the Parliament in order to assure quality and regulate trading.” This Act forms the basis of promotion and regulation of the seed industry.
Even as the authorities mull over how to exercise control over these nurserymen, the nurseries themselves are hidden only in certain pockets of Jayanagar. Will they continue to survive battling all odds or will the concept of a nursery be lost forever, giving way to the concrete jungle? Will pots and plants make way for iron and steel?