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Chugging on untried track

Not many railway managers can train their natural instincts like this one

Photo: T. Vijaya Kumar

Rare passion His makeover of a nature-lover belies his official image

Sprawling lawns, a natural lake and artificial islands flanked by a canopy of shaggy trees. We are not talking about a bird sanctuary, but about a segment of Rail Vihar, a colony being developed for Guntur division railway employees. Being designed a lmost on the lines of the Uppalapadu bird sanctuary located on the western horizon of Guntur, this colony is sure to become a subject of envy for many.A stone’s throw from posh colonies of Guntur city and divided only by an eco park, also developed by the Railways, the place is already a big hit among morning walkers for its serenity. Of late, nature-lovers are shunning the crowded stadiums, the dusty track of the parade ground or a cramped NTR indoor stadium and throng the Rail Vihar mainly because it is well connected by a black-topped private road and is seen as the best bet for nature aficionados. Flanked by Nandyal and Bibinagar-bound railway tracks, the area is well protected from heavy traffic. A couple of railway officers inhabit the luxurious bungalows located far from the maddening crowd.

Incidentally, the architect behind this conservation of natural resources is the man who ensures that trains running in the Guntur division of the South Central Railways chug in and out well in time.

Besides being the DRM of the Guntur Division of South Central Railway, Mohammed Akhtar has his fingers in other pies as well. He is an avid bird watcher and can identify most of the species from a distance either by their voice or shape even while they are in flight. As a child, he learnt from his grandfather the art of bird watching and never parted with it, be it his hometown near Jajpur in Orissa or his teaching stint in Sambalpur University or his tryst with the Indian Railways. A bagful of seed verities, a trekker’s shoe, a cap and a modified walking stick, which doubles up as a spade to loosen the earth to sow the seeds and a binocular hanging around his neck is what Akhtar sets out with in the mornings. Walking through hillocks and plains, he monitors the day-to-day developments in the Rail Vihar. Not very long ago, efforts to hand over this patch of land to a corporate college to set up its proposed campus were thwarted paving the way for ‘nature’ to take its own course. “We are happy for the DRM’s choice to develop the place into a natural sanctuary that will protect us from pollution of the mining and quarrying activity going on unabated in the hills surrounding Perecherla,” says Phanindra Kumar, an executive in an MNC and a regular morning walker on this stretch. A large gymnasium built here years ago on the vast stretch of land belonging to the South Central Railway is a potential fitness center that can boast of facilities on a par with any elite club. The hillocks and valleys surrounding the natural lake spread across a stretch of over seven acres serves as home to wild rabbits, sentinel birds indicating presence of a healthy eco-system. This nature-lover does not allow the constant phone calls pouring in to keep him updated on the operation of trains in the division, to bother him into deviating from his attention from the minute pug marks of rabbits, its droppings, or an occasional mark of a wolf. Akhtar has also found an innovative way of planting seeds in unreachable points. He prepares a mud ball putting seeds in them and throws them onto the rocks in a way that they stick to the place of their fall. In the next rain the seeds germinate and slowly find way for their roots in the cracks.

RAMESH SUSARLA

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