Mangalvanam-an old train station and a bird sanctuary-India

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Name Mangalvanam-an old train station and a bird sanctuary
Place Ernakulam
Country India
Author(s) Giya Elizabeth George
World Heritage No

Abandoned goods storage building in the Ernakulam Terminus Railway station compound.jpg

Why is this case relevant?

  • In this section you briefly explain why you have selected your site/are, why it is considered heritage and what is the cultural value (max 150 words)

Mangalvanam in Ernakulam is a 22 acres of green space with an old railway station and a 2.74 hectares of bird sanctuary with many varieties of mangroves. This area is considered to be the green lung of the city as it plays a major role in the air purification in the city. It also has a shallow lake connected to the Cochin backwaters. The lake is influenced by the tide and thus favors the growth of mangroves in the region. The mangroves in turn provides nesting places for a large variety of migratory and resident birds every year.

The railway station in Mangalvanam is the first railway station in Ernakulam and was constructed in 1902 by the Maharaja (The King), HH Rama Varma XV. During the time, there were no railway lines coming to the central Kerala. Hence the King tried to extend the existing railway connection in Malabar upto Kochi. The British were not interested in this project. But the King successfully completed the project and opened it to the public. There are no information available about the landscape design of the train station during the time. But it is evident that most of the trees present today in the site were there even before the construction of train station. The station has a array of lush green tree running parallel to the track and platform. There are waiting areas and office buildings designed in colonial style. The neighboring mangrove area was left undisturbed during the construction.

Mangalvanam is a landscape of historical importance for the region. Many of the prominent personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi (Father of the nation), Lord Rabindranath Tagor (First Non-European to win Nobel prize) and Indira Gandhi (Former Prime Minister of India) arrived at Ernakulam Terminus during their visit to Kerala. Later when the present railway stations were constructed, the old station was converted into a railways goods station and later it was abandoned. It is considered as a protected area now. The nature has taken over almost everything in the site.

The mangrove area in t Mangalvanam is converted into a bird sanctuary as there were many migratory birds visiting the site for nesting. The bird sanctuary is open to public. But the maintenance is not very satisfactory. Even though it is a very small area, it houses 25 species of plants among which 5 species are mangroves, 51 species of spiders, 17 butterfly species, 7 species of fish, 2 species of amphibian, 9 species of reptiles, 98 bird species and 3 mammal species as per the information obtained from the bird sanctuary.

Which idea of ‘design with nature’ guides the design concept of this site?

  • In this section you talk about the design concept of your area. Is it a highly maintained site, i.e. does the design with nature require intensive maintenance? Or does the site follow a more organic interpretation of nature? Which changes are expected if maintenance is missing?

Originally, Ernakulam railway terminus was constructed there due to its proximity to the Ernakulam market. There were also inland water canals that connected the market to other parts of the city. Thus it helped in the transportation of goods and trade flourished. There were also boat jetties and ferries close to the station to take people and goods to near by places. it was a major transportation node during the time. It also houses the old colonial buildings from the time of its construction. But now, the old train station is completely abandoned and not fit for public access. Also the canals turned into conveyor belts that carry waste from the city to the backwaters. The site is not at all maintained and is full of wild plants invading the area. The old buildings are covered by plants and is not at all visible from outside. In a way, it can be considered as an organic intervention of nature in the city which aids in air purification and habitat protection. But the railway is planning new development projects in the area which will severely affect the ecosystem of Mangalvanam. The site can either be maintained slightly and left as an organic interpretation of nature or it an be completely maintained and transformed into a railway museum and garden space or a new train station.

The property next to the railway station was left undisturbed since it was hard to carry out construction in marshy areas in those days. The mangrove vegetation in the marsh provided shelter to animals, birds and reptiles. There were many migratory birds visiting the mangrove area for nesting every year. The bird sanctuary requires only little maintenance inside. But on the outside,there should be strict rules the authorities should take care of while giving permission for building construction around such sensitive ecological areas.

Which challenges is this landscape facing?

  • Here you discuss the types of negative impact you are observing but you can also mention new functions that could give a development opportunity

The Ernakulam terminus railway station is a historic monument of the area. Most of the old colonial structures in the site still remains there. Some of them have undergone severe damage over the time while some other remain intact. The site is not at all maintained by the railway and plants invade everything in the site. It is impossible to enter the site or to walk through it. The old glory of the station is hidden completely by the wilderness. Waste thrown into the site by the local residents pollute the area severely. The site has a potential to be left as an organically grown green space in the city or as a railway museum with green spaces around it. The railway has plans to restart the train service to this station again. Initially the proposal was to design a railway hospital. It was then changed to the train service renewal. But with the present situations the ecosystem and biodiversity of the place will be adversely affected by such a project. The trees will have to be cut down, the colonial structures might be demolished and also the disturbances will affect the habitat in mangrove areas.

In the recent years many high rise buildings were constructed around the bird sanctuary. Most of it were luxury residential buildings with a view to the nearby backwaters. The renovated multi storey building of High Court of Kerala is also situated very close to the bird sanctuary. Environmentalists and bird watchers claim that these high-rise buildings are curtailing the movement of birds while bringing the nesting and food materials. It also disturbs the orientation of birds while taking off and landing. As a result the number of birds visiting the place is decreasing drastically.

People are allowed to access only a small area of the bird sanctuary. A watch tower is also provided for viewing the birds from a distance. But most often the people visiting the site are unaware of the breeding season of the birds and importance of mangrove vegetation in the area. Hence consider the bird sanctuary as a waste land. The water in the mangrove marsh in the bird sanctuary is polluted and aids the spread of mosquitoes in the region. Scattered pieces of plastic and synthetic wastes such as used straws, plastic covers, foams etc are also be found in the area. All together the bird sanctuary appears to be dirty unhealthy place with nothing much to see for the visitor.

What would be your strategy for improvement?

Finally, please share some ideas of how you would initiate positive change for your heritage area

The old train station and its surroundings can be converted into a green park for the public without demolishing the old buildings. The old trees and lush green vegetation will entice any visitor. The existing old structures can be reused as pavilions and seating areas. Also, the bird sanctuary will not be disturbed. The old buildings and railway tracks can be preserved as monuments. Strict regulations should be brought to prevent the construction of high rise buildings at least 1000 meters around the bird sanctuary. Regular cleaning of the plastic and other synthetic waste from the bird sanctuary. Giving awareness to the visitors about the breeding period of birds, importance of mangrove vegetation and the species diversity in Mangalvanam. Cleaning of canals and introducing water purifying wetland plants in the canals.

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