Living in polluted environments and battling various lifestyle diseases has made urban dwellers look for alternatives.
Hyderabad-based Pragati Group has come up with various initiatives to resuscitate the environment, says Ajay Chandra
For thousands of years, India has been a repository of precious secrets of health and healing. Although modernism and Western medicine have considerably dented the popularity of indigenous healing methods, there are visionaries who have resuscitated ancient Indian practices to enrich the lives of fellow human beings.
Dr G B K Rao, an industrialist-turned-environmentalist, strongly believes that Indian culture is an inalienable part of nature, and only when sacred herbal and medicinal plants and sacred heritage cows are protected, nature is protected, and man can lead a happy and healthy life.
Dr Rao’s undying passion to preserve the cultural, environmental, and health-related heritage of India took shape in the form of Pragati Biodiversity Knowledge Park in Hyderabad. Founded in the year 1994, Pragati Group ushers in the concept of vyadhi rahita samajam (disease-free society) by harnessing the health-giving and healing power of plants.
The journey of Pragati from being a ‘no go’ area to a global biodiversity knowledge park was a long and arduous one. All eco-friendly measures undertaken at Pragati aim to realise the interconnection of our culture and nature. Spread over 2500 acres, it is visited by scores of national and international visitors and is home to more than 800 varieties of herbal and medicinal plants, sacred vanams (forests), and heritage cows.
Says Dr Rao, “If nature is protected, the panchabhoota, viz., ether, air, water, fire, and earth are brought into balance. Unfortunately, due to the neglect of nature and high levels of pollution in India, the figure of 5000 plants per head has now come down to 28 plants per head. Land, wind, and water have been polluted due to industrialisation and uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources. The lofty goal to spend two per cent GDP for the protection of the environment and preservation of biodiversity is yet to be recognised.”
But Pragati Biodiversity Knowledge Park has gradually proven to be a microcosm of India’s wealth of herbal plants and cows.
Biodiversity at Pragati
As per Charaka Samhita, there exist 55 diseases on this planet. Each disease has 10 corresponding herbal plants for its cure. Pragati’s Sanjeevani Nursery boasts of more than 800 heritage medicinal and aromatic plants besides a 100 varieties of vegetables and fruits. They have created one-of-a-kind genome banks in the world for a wide variety of flora and fauna. More than 65 varieties of birds find a secure habitat at Pragati according to a WWF survey. The place is cohabited by 15 to 20 rare animal species too. Pragati Bio Pharma has discovered a unique herb with medicinal properties for prevention of breast cancer and named it Urginea Raogibikei. It is in the process of getting recognition from Small Business Innovation Research Initiative (SBIRI) for its anti-cancer therapeutic qualities.
Pragati also houses a collection of rare species of cattle in its goshala (cowshed) that includes heritage cows and bulls of Punganur, Ongole, Gir, Sahiwal, Tharparkar, and Kapila breeds, besides rare breeds of mountain sheep. The desi cows are allowed to freely graze in the medicinal and herbal gardens, ensuring nutritious milk.
Says Dr Rao, “Cows should be reared in open farms that have medicinal and herbal plants, as the goodness of these herbs reaches humans through milk, cow ghee, cow urine, and cow dung. When cows move around in nature and graze on different plants and herbs, they intelligently choose the right kind to graze upon.
The knowledge of this inter-relationship between cows, trees, and humans needs to be understood, and the cows and plants need to be protected. Our ancestors possessed this knowledge and had passed it on. However, the modern methods of farming discontinued the free grazing of cows and ruined the health and happiness of the society.”
More than 30-40 years ago, most of the Indian rivers were perennial. Now, many of those rivers flow only during rainfall and remain dry for most of the year. If this situation persists, after 20 years, 50 per cent of the population will not have water to drink. When Pragati was established in 1994, the area was totally barren with terrible climatic conditions. The water table was completely depleted, and the land was unfit for cultivation. But Pragati’s team, with its experience and expertise in developing medicinal and herbal plantations along the catchment area, turned that barren piece of land into a green zone.
Water flowing from hills enters rivers and cuts the roots of the plants to release their medicinal essence. Therefore, the river water is considered to be sacred. Plants like the Indian gooseberry (amla), which have high medicinal and herbal value, are planted along the river banks. The herbal and medicinal plants are planted in the catchment areas as part of root-zone plantation so that water flowing towards lower regions gets purified.
The craft village at Pragati promotes bamboo crafts, pottery, wooden toys, metallurgy, and gardening. Several training programmes are organised at the craft village for skill development and employment. Pragati is a pioneer in the adoption of the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Its sewage treatment plant converts sewage into water which can be used for plantation irrigation. All these practices have contributed to a reduction of the resort’s temperature by five degrees in summer. Significantly, Pragati is free from soil, water, air, and sound pollution.
The resort also has expertise in revitalising damaged soils. The process of soil treatment begins with tulsi plantation. Later, the vermicompost (compost produced by earthworms) is added to the soil to produce desired microbes. These microbes enhance the digestive capacity of soil and retain humus in it. For every 15 acres of land, there should be a five-acre goshala to prepare panchagavya made of cow dung, urine, milk, curd, and ghee. The herbal, medicinal, and aromatic plants purify the air, and their roots help in the treatment of the soil.
Pragati Biodiversity Knowledge Park encompasses 18 villages. The park has sensitised the villagers to the importance of plantation and conservation of trees. Trees that grow naturally by bird pollination provide a green cover in the area. The villagers would earlier sell them as firewood once they were three to five years old, for less than `50 per tree. Pragati introduced the incentive of paying `1000 to the villagers for conserving these trees while buying land from them. This encouraged the villagers in the surrounding villages of Moinabad, Chevella, and Shankarpally Mandals to grow trees in their respective lands, considering the benefits they might reap in future. Thereby, once again, a forest cover in the region was created.
Pragati provides training to scores of people in growing and nurturing indoor plants. A mere six-inch layer of soil is enough to grow mosquito-repellent plants and medicinal plants within residential quarters. These plants can be used in the preparation of herbal tea, herbal juices, herbal salads, herbal curries, and herbal food. So, the scope for organising training programmes and providing work opportunities in indoor gardening is endless in the forms of vertical gardens, roof gardens, and kitchen gardens.
Smart cities to garden cities
Pragati’s pioneering work in gardening, root-zone plantation, rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation, natural farming, landscaping and horticulture, and creating mosquito-free spaces has been recognised through national and international awards and certifications. Dr Rao’s vision of creating innovative and economically viable garden cities has led him to make rapid forays into the development of garden townships and gated communities comprising farmland plots and villas in and around the knowledge park. Far from the chaos of the concrete enclosures, rampaging traffic, aggravating pollution, and everything that makes you race against time, Pragati’s concept of green living allows one to revel in the tranquil natural environs and discover profound bliss.
Pragati spreads over 2500 acres of verdant settings. The breathtaking Nature Walk here under the beautiful blue skies, the cattle grazing over green meadows, the serene landscapes, the gentle breeze of trees exuding a sweet floral fragrance, the cascading waterfalls and gushing streams, the colourful fishes steering across the pond, the butterflies and the honey bees hovering around a host of colourful flowers in the gardens and farms, and the chirping birds and innumerable peacocks fluffing their feathers in sheer ecstasy create a natural symphony that makes each day of life, special.
We are at a juncture of time when modern society has started looking around for a panacea for different diseases, imbalances, sicknesses, and catastrophes on a global scale. It is time we open our eyes and understand the profound message of India’s Vedic culture and Rishi Sanskriti which promotes the development of man and biodiversity.
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