March 25, 2011 By Anna Mathews
To see schoolchildren milling around in relaxed groups, one would think that they were at a park and one wouldn’t be too far off the mark as the Indian Oil Corporation’s jubilee retail outlet in Angamaly, Ernakulam, is more than just a petrol station; it is a small eco-sphere.
The nearly 3.3 acres of the petrol station houses a butterfly and herb garden and a small park with geese and guinea fowl. The petrol station also has vermicomposting, rainwater harvesting, biogas and water treatment facilities. There are also a couple of restaurants and refreshing, well-maintained public toilets.
“In our childhood, it was easy to spot butterflies fluttering around, especially in Kerala,” says V.R. Menon, the senior division retail sales manager, Ernakulam, adding, “Today, perhaps because of pollution, pesticides, and a lack of greenery, our kids are hard-pressed to find birds and butterflies.
The idea germinated from the need to fill this gap.” IOC’s jubilee retail outlets are run by the corporation and named thus following its 50th anniversary celebrations. “The garden with native wild flowers like lantana and snakeweed, has managed to attract butterflies in just about four months,” says the business manager, Mathews Alexander. “This is an attempt as much to create awareness as to attract people here. It’s a shame if Kerala, after being marketed as ‘God’s own country’, is cut off from nature.”
The know-how for the eco-sphere was sourced from different quarters, including the Kerala Forest Research Institute and the Kerala Agriculture University.
There were, however, some initial hiccoughs. The IOC team, which worked to put the concept together, was shocked when some rabbits that they introduced to the project, died. The veterinarian’s report suggested that the unwashed cauliflower in the rabbits’ diet was probably pesticide infused.
The aim at the Angamaly outlet is to open people’s eyes and make them understand how they can be “one with nature” and find eco-habits they can practice for themselves.
“Vermicomposting and biogas facilities are ideal ways to get rid of and recycle waste in homes,” says Mathews, adding, “The slurry and treated water from our facilities go into our gardens, so we are organic and self-contained.”
The concept is indeed self-perpetuating; maintaining a garden with flowers that are rich in nectar has attracted butterflies like the tiger and lime, and hanging, readymade nests from trees have attracted birds to nest here.
Equally impressed are teachers from the Reverend Father GMVHS School in neighbouring Kottayam.
“We were in a hurry to get back to school, but when we saw the gardens, I suggested that the children should walk around and take a good look at things,” says Raju K.J., principal of the school. “It is a good educational initiative and we will certainly be coming back.”
The idea seems to be a success, considering the number of school buses driving in. But the IOC team has bigger aims. “We want butterflies to be a common sight at all the petrol pumps in India,” says Menon.