Cubbon Park was created as a 100-acre park in 1870 by Major General Richard Sankey. It was originally named Meade Park after the acting Commissioner of Mysuru in that year, John Meade. It was later named Cubbon Park, after Sir Mark Cubbon, a more illustrious successor to Meade.
Cubbon Park now covers close to 300 acres, making it the largest park in the city. A favourite with morning walkers and joggers in the heart of Bengaluru, it is in the news for a redevelopment project worth Rs 40 crore.
As part of the smart city project, the redevelopment of the park has been proposed in four phases.
Phase 1 that has a total project cost of Rs. 20 crores involves the redevelopment of pathways, improvement of existing footpaths, designated cycle track marked on existing roads and designated jogging tracks. New jogging tracks and a nature trail are part of the second phase. In Phase 3, rejuvenation of the ponds, improvement to pigeon feeding, bird watching, angling and adventure activities have been listed while phase 4 will have benches, shaded spaces, smart solid waste dustbins, picnic table and sunken seating.
Here is the PPT presented to public, during the Feb 2 public consultation, on how the park will look after the redevelopment:
The key question that has come up in public debates is the actual need for any redevelopment. Cubbon Park is, in essence, the working lab of a thriving natural ecosystem in the middle of an urban landscape. While it is imprudent to perceive that nature is not smart by itself, any addition to it is bound to be an encroachment on an open public space that is the city’s natural heritage.
Leo Saldanha, Coordinator of Environment Support Group, says: “These parks have an annual maintenance budget and are pretty well maintained. So there is no need to keep on focusing on them. Once a park has a feel and design to it, the need is to maintain it rather than build inside that disturbs the structure form and ecology. As roots are interlinked, laying the pavement will damage the environment.”
Arun Tharakan, Founder Director, Sunbird Productions, avers, “Adding man-made elements like iron, plastics, concrete and even processed wood to make gyms and play facilitates, defeats the very purpose of sustainability. ‘Redeveloping’ the park only seems like someone’s smart idea to make a quick buck in the guise of development.”
True, there are parts of the park that require maintenance, fencing, protection, planting of more native species etc, but the mammoth plan to redevelop the park would destroy it, says Kavya Chandra, Founder of A Green Venture Nature & Outdoor Education. “We hardly have lung spaces left and if developing Cubbon Park on the lines of building and concrete is what the smart city project is all about, we can say goodbye to ecology. Home to not just trees but a multitude of insects, birds, small mammals and other fauna. All this gets affected. We need to leave undisturbed spaces alone for this kind of life to exist.”
A smart city project needs public approval and has to have complete transparency.
Ankit Bhargava, Co-founder, Sensing Local Foundation who was part of the public consultation that was held on February 2, says that the whole exercise was more of a sham with no meaningful discussions at all.
“Public consultation was more a one-way communication without adequate time for inputs to be heard or debated. Swiftly after the project presentation, it was abruptly and unceremoniously disbanded. The process is following the trend of most other public projects – of top-down planning,” says Bhargava.
Citing examples, he points out that there is new signage proposed in the smart city plan, but it needs to take cognisance of the existing signage, integrate it and augment it as necessary. There was a braille component in existing signage that did not get funded. The plazas, especially plans like pigeon-feeding, should be revisited as plazas covering the green spaces are unnecessary, he says. As for pigeon-feeding, it should not be promoted, Bhargava argues.
Citizens fear that the plans for a grand redevelopment could in fact exclude the larger public, restrict access and promote exclusivity to this common public heritage. Saldanha avers, “The proposed development focuses too much on surveillance and this keeps people out whereas the purpose of a place like this is for people to have access to open areas. Also, the air pollution monitors are a waste in a space like this.”
|Following the many concerns that have been raised by citizens and experts alike, authorities appear to be having a rethink.
Kusuma G, Deputy Director, Horticulture – Cubbon Park, says, “We had requested for the budget as some basic development works like the pathways need to be repaired, as they are in a poor condition. The three ponds inside the park need to be rejuvenated so that we can harvest rainwater, which is getting wasted. We will also do fencing as required. We are not touching even one tree and in fact we are planning to add more plants. The idea is to rejuvenate the space and rework. Many people have not understood this, which is why we have considered aspects like not adding more concrete like the yoga pavilion. We will add some benches and good-quality dust bins that will last for at least 20-30 years, so it will benefit the park and not harm the environment in any way.”
The Way Forward
Citizens believe that instead of developing an already well-developed space like Cubbon Park, time and resources could be directed to developing similar lung spaces in newer areas of the city that are worse off in terms of air pollution and lung spaces.
S G Neginhal, retired forest officer and pioneer of urban forestry, says “Instead of adding concrete structures to spoil the environment of Cubbon Park, we can look at developing places like Turahalli forest. This money can be spent to repair roads and have watchmen to protect the plants. I think 90% must be spent in Turahalli and 10% can be used to plant native species where the plant cover is missing.”
Bhargava says that the Rs 40 crore should be used to create new public parks that are different from the existing ones. Although there are over 2500 public parks in the city, most of them are designed with limited usage and shut most of the day, he notes. He wonders why people are disallowed to walk on the grass in these parks and permitted only on walkways and open gym areas.
To this day, the only two urban forests that are public spaces in Bengaluru — Cubbon Park and Lalbagh — were created more than a century ago. Institutions such as the University of Agricultural Sciences and Indian Institute of Science also boast of forest ecosystems (as opposed to the manicured monoculture of BBMP’s and BDA’s public parks) and are valuable lung spaces. Clearly, Bengaluru does not need a plan that guzzles public money to tamper with perfectly envisioned spaces.