The state government’s proposal to construct a war memorial at the Indira Gandhi musical fountain park in Vasanthnagar, has met the ire of environment groups in the city, who allege that this project is being carried out by violating several legislations. At least 29 trees (or less) are facing the axe for the project. The groups, however, say that they are not against the construction of a war memorial itself, but are opposing the felling of trees.
Proposed to be built over 6 acres and 22 guntas of this 17-odd acre park, the project has been initiated by the state’s Home department. The project is being implemented by the BDA. Incidentally, the Home department itself is unaware of the details of this project.
To be built at a cost of Rs 12 crores, the proposed war memorial includes a memorial stone which will be transported to the park. Also proposed to be built is a museum, representing the three armed forces – Army, Navy and the Airforce. As per the last drawing done on February 19th 2010, 29 trees maybe felled. This number, however, is not final. The total number of trees in this park is 182. These include several heritage trees such as mango and jackfruit (because of their age) and commercial trees like eucalyptus and Ashoka.
At a recent meeting held by the BDA, Vinay Sreenivasa, member of a local green network Hasiru Usiru, said that such projects first need to be publicised to invite suggestions from citizens. Hasiru Usiru is a network of citizens with the agenda of conserving open spaces and greenery in Bangalore. This network is opposed to felling of trees for constructing this war memorial.
Members of Hasiru Usiru argue that this is mandatory as per Section 14A of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act 1961, which states that when there is change of land use or development, the said Planning authority (in this case the BDA) can enforce the plan after publishing the proposal “in one or more daily newspapers, having circulation in the area, inviting objections from the public within a period of not less than 15 days from the date of publication as may be specified by the Planning Authority”.
This green group also cites from the Karnataka Parks, Play-fields and Open Spaces (Preservation and Regulation) Act, 1985, wherein no building or structure should be constructed inside a park unless deemed necessary for “the improvement or more beneficial utilisation of the park”. Hasiru Usiru members say that this war memorial in no way accounts for more beneficial utilisation of the park, if authorities argue on these lines.
Similarly, The Karnataka Government Parks (Preservation) Act 1975 says that the government should preserve and maintain as horticultural gardens and improve the utility of such parks. Sreenivasa pointed to this as well at the BDA meeting.
With over 900 trees felled in and around this area, thanks to the Metro Rail, Sreenivasa says, “We have a Tree Officer who is supposed to protect trees. But here you have so many trees that have been cut”. As per The Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act 1976, Sreenivasa says that the Tree Officer of the BBMP cannot give permission to fell trees unless the trees is dead, diseased, wind-fallen, constitutes a danger to life or property, and so on. “This is not the case with any of the trees at this park. So the Tree Officer should not give permission”.
Government departments toss the ball
All these points were raised at the meeting called by the BDA. The meeting was attended by BDA officials including Engineer Officer 1 A N Thyagaraja, Engineer Member R Sreenivasa, BBMP’s Tree Officer M R Suresh, architects Soumitro Ghosh and Nisha Mathew Ghosh of Mathew & Ghosh Archietcts Pvt Ltd (who have designed the structure), and three citizens who were present on the invitation of the Tree Officer. The meeting was specifically called to discuss the need to fell trees for this project, since permissions for felling trees need to be given by the BBMP’s Tree Officer.
Even as the citizens raised their objections to the project, the Engineer Officer Thyagaraja repeatedly said that the BDA was merely the implementing agency. “We can’t say anything. The government just asked us to do this”, he said.
This project has been handed over to the BDA by the Home department. Sreenivasa requested the BDA to send these objections to the Home department and follow all processes of law.
Incidentally, it is the horticulture department which maintains the Indira Gandhi musical fountain park. No official of this department was present at the meeting.
Speaking to Citizen Matters, N Jayaram, Director of Horticulture, says that they have informed the BDA not to cut trees as far as possible. “I don’t think the war memorial will affect any of the trees”, he says, refusing to comment further, and adding that the decision lies with the owner of the park, the Public Works department.
K B Shivanandappa, Assistant Executive Engineer, Karnataka Public Works Department (KPWD), confirms that the BDA wrote a letter to a KPWD Executive Engineer (EE) seeking permission to use 6 acres and 20 guntas of the Indira Gandhi musical fountain park and mark the same for the war memorial. The letter has been forwarded to Shivanandappa’s office, who says that he has asked the EE to write to the BDA asking for the project plan.
“See, I am a government official. If they ask us to give the land, we’ll have to give. The final decision will be taken by the Principal Secretary”, Shivanandappa states. He also repeatedly says that the park is in the custody of the horticulture department. “Anything to do with felling of trees and all, they will look after.”
Home department caught unawares
Back to the BDA meeting, even as Thyagaraja said that he may inform the Home department of the objections from the citizens, Citizen Matters spoke to Home Secretary Sunil Kumar who says he has not received any information from the BDA on this.
Surprisingly, Kumar was unaware of the exact details of the war memorial. “No building as such is coming up”, he says. When asked about the museum, he says, “I’m not sure what type of museum this is”. About the trees, Kumar says that as far as possible the trees will be retained, adding that he is not aware of the final plan and will have to speak to the BDA Commissioner on this.
Just as the BDA tossed the ball in the Home department’s court, the Home Secretary insisted that the BDA will be able to give a clearer picture about the project!
On the other hand, Thyagaraja says that the objections raised at the meeting, have since been brought to the notice of the Chairman of the National Military Memorial Committee, Rajeev Chandrasekhar (also a Rajya Sabha MP). “He said it’s being done as per the Karnataka Parks, Play-fields and Open Spaces (Preservation and Regulation) Act, 1985. So it’s not required to change anything”, says Thyagaraja, adding that the layout of the project has not been finalised yet. “We want to save the heritage trees”, he says.
Chandrasekhar did not respond to questions via e-mail.
Ex-servicemen against felling trees for war memorial
The BDA says that the idea behind constructing this war memorial is to create awareness among the public about the armed forces. Major Pramod Kapur, a resident of Koramangala, feels that the Indira Gandhi musical fountain park is an ideal place for the war memorial, as it is centrally located. However, he feels that there is no need to fell trees for this. “There is enough place there to have this structure with the trees”, says Major Kapur, who was present at the foundation stone-laying ceremony held at the park on February 9th 2009.
He feels that the architect should be environmentally-sound and incorporate the trees in the design. Major Kapur also suggests that a competition can be held, asking for environment-friendly designs for the memorial. The best design from these can be used, he says. This point was also raised at the BDA meeting, where Sreenivasa of Hasiru Usiru suggested a competition just like the one that was held for designing Freedom Park located on Seshadri Road. Incidentally, Freedom Park was designed by Mathew & Ghosh Archietcts Pvt Ltd who were present at this meeting.
Others like Col (Retd) C K Seshadri say that an alternate location should be looked for instead of felling trees at the park. “They can have it in Parade Grounds since it is open. There is a garden there also. Since an army organisation is there, it’s a better place”, he feels. Again, this was a point that was raised by a citizen, at the BDA meeting.
BDA yet to make war memorial DPR public
Even as there is uncertainty over the exact details of the war memorial, with different government departments involved, those members of the public present at the BDA meeting, are clear about their arguments. Unless procedures are followed, these citizens have told the BDA that they may have to take the case to court. “A few people can’t decide what the city wants”, said Sreenivasa, at the meeting.
Thyagaraja of the BDA said that they will share the Detailed Project Report (DPR) soon.
Meanwhile, Hasiru Usiru is waiting to hear from the BDA before deciding their next course of action.