Concretising open parks — this is not the development people want or need

CITIZENS WALK IN PROTEST

Protest at Sankey Tank with bulldozer
Saaku walk at Sankey Tank. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

Tired of the constant digging up of roads, residents of Ward 45, Malleswaram took to the streets to conduct a peaceful walk called #SAAKU walk on March 6th, 2022, to highlight their issues. While their walk managed to get the attention of the bureaucracy and the politicians, nothing much changed on the ground.

Instead of sitting quietly for the authorities to wake up and hope that they keep up their promises, Malleswaram residents decided to take further steps. Here is what they did next.

Seeing all this angst of citizens and the enthusiasm during the first Saaku walk, we decided to do a second walk to focus on two areas of Malleswaram which have been a major source of frustration to residents, the grounds at 18th cross, and Sankey Tank. Both these facilities are used by people from various parts of the city.

What happens here is of concern beyond Malleswaram

Incomplete footpath works in Malleswaram
Work on this section of footpath started in November 2021, just after we did our Cycle Day here. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam
Road works - bulldozer on 18th Cross Road Malleswaram
Latest image from 18th Cross Road. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam
People holding Saaku placards at Gokak park
On Sunday morning we gathered at Gokak park and walked to Sankey Tank. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam
Picture of Sankey Tank at sunrise
Sunrise at Sankey Tank. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

Sankey Tank is an iconic landmark which is older than the neighbourhood of Malleswaram. It was built in the 1880s to provide water to Bangalore’s Cantonment areas. The walking path along the lake is a very popular venue, especially on weekends, for joggers, walkers and senior citizens.

Protesters holding placards on Sankey grounds
At the Malleswaram entrance to Sankey Tank. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

Police were out in full force, and kept telling us we can not protest with placards.

Protesters on a bulldozer
Work has been going on at Sankey Tank for years now. Pic credit: Anand Dorairaj @stonedwasherman

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Work has been going on at Sankey Tank for many years now. . We don’t know how many crores of taxpayer’s money has been spent on this work. During most of the Coronavirus pandemic period, the park was not accessible. Even now, the walking path is still not fully accessible to senior citizens. We also heard that some fancy water wall/fountain was to be installed at the lake. Luckily it has not been implemented so far.

As you can see in the pictures, there is still work going on, and we have been told that it will be completed in one month.

Also do we really need such a wide path — wide enough for two large vehicles to pass each other?

As we were talking to a few young visitors, police arrived in force, and asked us to move out. We were not blocking any path, not stopping traffic, not obstructing anyone. They informed us that one cannot ‘protest’, with or without placards, in any public place except Freedom Park, as per a recent High Court order.

So we now have no freedom to protest anywhere except at Freedom Park. I never thought that was the purpose of Freedom Park. This is the new India we are building.

From Sankey Tank, we walked the short distance to the 18th cross grounds. Many people playing at the ground joined us in a walk around the ground.

This is the last of the many open grounds that once dotted Malleswaram. There are many who attended the school situated on this ground and have been playing or walking here for over 50 years. Over time, many new buildings have been built, and even part of the open ground has been given to a private club for cricket coaching. On weekends, come rain or shine, one can see dozens of games in progress, all of them sharing the space amicably.

Iron gate tied with a string at Sankey Tank
The tall, heavy gate at the entrance to 18x ground is held up by metal wire, a recent upgrade from plastic. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

Where are the basic utilities?

There is no functioning toilet for this large ground which is full of various teams playing cricket, football, frisbee etc throughout the year. The toilet that existed was removed recently. There is a facility for drinking water, but it does not work. The tall and wide gate (6.5m x 3m) was until recently held up by plastic string. This has now been upgraded to metallic wire.

18th cross playground development plan
Board showing details of the work at 18th cross grounds. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

Instead of satisfying the basic needs of users of the grounds, BBMP is spending an estimated Rs 2 crore to install 41 floodlights, building a drain along the walls, and also a pathway along the full length, paved with cement blocks. They are also fixing the stands and the fence where it is broken.

While it is not shown in the project details, there are apparently plans to build a “small” platform (we have to guess how small) at the far/narrow end of the ground. Why is this not shown in the plans?

construction material at  Malleshwaram 18th cross grounds
The narrow section of the Malleshwaram 18th cross grounds, where a platform might be built. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

Most long term users of the grounds have observed that they have rarely seen any stagnation of water in the ground even after heavy rain. They all feel that the drains were unnecessary, and if at all needed, they are in the wrong place. The whole ground slopes down north to south, and east to west, but the drains are on the east, and there is a plan to change this. The mounds of sand on the ground, which have been there since 2020 are apparently meant for this.

a ditch being dug at Malleshwaram 18th cross grounds
Digging for the drain at Malleshwaram 18th cross grounds. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

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Every single person at the ground was against the idea of a pathway.

There is a nice, paved footpath all along the newly made Margosa road just on the other side of the ground wall, and there is a ultra-wide walking and jogging path at Sankey Tank just 200m away. So why do we need a walking path here?

When I first came to Bengaluru in the 80s to study at the Indian Institute of Science, my cousin would come to the grounds at Malleswaram 5th cross all the way from Basaveshwara Nagar. Today, this ground is under lock and key, with play timings regulated. The ground is often not open for play as it is used for religious, commercial and political events. The Beagles basketball ground at 15th cross was another popular spot where many kids used to go and play. Now it has been given to a private club, and one has to be a member to play.

Given what has happened to many other open spaces, people are worried that the 18th cross grounds are next in line.

This is the only free and open ground left in this area. Please leave it as is, and just let us play. We don’t need any “development”.

This was a common idea expressed by many people on the ground today. There is also a worry that tree roots are being damaged while digging for the drains, and ultimately the old ‘Sankey road widening’ project might come back to claim a chunk of the park.

Protesters at the digging site in 18th cross grounds Malleshwaram
#SAAKU Walk at Malleshwaram 18th cross ground. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

After doing a round of the ground, we all gathered at the volleyball court area outside the gate. There may have been a few hundred people. We were talking about how to convey our views to the authorities.

The police were out in full force, and wanted those present to disperse. We tried to tell them that we are just discussing what is happening to the ground, and were not blocking anything. At a personal level, they agreed with our viewpoint, but they still had to do their job, which was to stop us.

Protesters interacting with the Police
18th cross ground users discussing with police officers. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

In summary, today’s walk showed how worried the people are about their last remaining open grounds and Sankey Tank, which is the largest lung space in the area. After we began the #SAAKU walk, at least now there is a board set up outside the entrance to the ground showing the details of the project.

In an ideal world, the local ward committee should decide what projects are taken up when, at what cost, as part of the budget process.

Currently the ward committees, where they work, have become grievance redressal forums, which is only one part of their responsibility. The MLA’s office decides what works are taken up and when, with no involvement of the ward committees.

In the end, we want to stress that we are only trying to make the system better. Municipal agencies like BBMP and BWSSB must learn to work more smartly — involve residents in the design, and take feedback from residents about what is working or not working.

Update on the state of Malleswaram roads

The white topping work on Sampige road is on. We are told, unofficially, that it will take this month to finish the main carriageway.

road blocks near Sampige theatre junction
Sampige road closed near Sampige theatre junction. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam
A good road with proper manholes
Even as buses are diverted to 8th Main, more digging is planned here. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

Sampige road is closed for heavy traffic, which is supposed to go on 8th main, which is still being dug up to lay OFC cables.

Heavy traffic is being routed via 8th main, but we see buses all over Malleswaram including 4th main, 15th cross and18th cross. Digging is still on in 8th main, to make us a smarter city, while people struggle with the heavy bus traffic. There is still digging going on, and various roads are closed. For example, 13th cross was closed on March 6th near Manipal OPD while 17th and 18th Cross roads are partially open.

horses tied up, no footpaths
This is 8th main, on which heavy vehicle traffic from Sampige road is being diverted. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

I was surprised to see these carts along 8th main. Maybe it is time we went back to these!

Horse Carts parked along Malleshwaram 8th main
Carts parked along Malleshwaram 8th main. Pic credit: Krishna Panyam

The second walk too was successful with a large turnout at the ground. It was resolved that we will send a petition to the MLA. An online petition was started and over a thousand people signed it.

Post MLA’s interaction with people at Sankey tank and 18th cross ground, the walkway in the 18th cross ground has been cancelled, the broken gate replaced, mounds of earth removed. But installation of lights and digging of drains are still on. The “small platform”, which was not even in the official plan, has been shelved.

All this is of course true for now only. We the citizens have to keep our guard up to prevent such things from recurring.

One thing this walk clearly illustrated is that it is not enough to sit at home and complain. We have to get out on the street and show that we care about things, if we want to bring change.

We hope residents of Malleswaram will keep up their enthusiasm and show up for the next few events. We request all residents to continue to engage with the community, and with the local government and agencies through ward committees with the goal of improved governance.

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About Krishna Panyam 2 Articles
Krishna Panyam is an active member of Malleswaram Social and Council for Active Mobility. He is an engineer by profession. He is interested in public policy, sustainability, origami and cycling, among other things. He has been living in Malleswaram for the last 20 years.