A recent development in the Horticulture department managing Cubbon Park provoked me to write this article. The Horticulture Department has been approached by BSNL to make Cubbon Park and Lalbagh Wi-Fi enabled (Source: TOI). As part of the Central Government’s ‘Digital India’ initiative, funds will be supplied from the Centre to setup Wi-Fi hot-spots in cities with a population of over a million.
“These two sylvan spaces, bang in the middle of an intensely busy city, are best protected from the trappings of modernity. Urban Parks world over, be they in Kyoto, Bonn, New York or Vancouver, are all so structured, as to provide relief from the intensity of technological use, overuse and abuse that pervades urban realities. Sitting under a tree, on a park bench, looking at a pond, and observing the little details is critical to retaining sanity to over-stressed urban residents. If wifi is important, and has to be made accessible to all, provide them free in shopping centres, or bus terminals or public offices and libraries. Poor and rich and those in between can easily access the net to do whatever then. Parks are best left as spaces where human energy communes with bio energy, without interference from too much electromagnetic activity.” – Leo Saldanha, Enivronment Support Group
Cubbon Park and Lalbagh are the only remaining public lung spaces in Bengaluru. Hordes of locals and tourists throng these spaces in a bid to relax and take a break from their strenuous lives. I contacted Mahantesh, Deputy Director, Horticulture department (Cubbon Park) to find out more details on the initiative. He was extremely soft-spoken and patiently explained the details of the program (He even went a step ahead and asked me for my opinion on the same). He also stated the following as reasons for deciding to provide Wi-Fi connectivity in Cubbon Park:
- Public use for Facebook, Twitter and Youtube
- Emergency services like reservation/booking of train ticket, bus tickets
- Citizens who do not have internet facility on their phones can pay a minimum and use the internet at the Park
The Horticulture Department at Lalbagh stated that they have not been intimated about the initiative yet.
Accompanied by two friends (Sohn Saldanha and Ganesh T L) we conducted a survey among the visitors (248 in total) at Cubbon Park/Lalbagh to find out the hows, whys and whats of their reasons to use Cubbon Park/Lalbagh.
A few of the important questions asked were:
- Why do you/group come to Cubbon Park/Lalbagh?
- How long have you/ the group been using this space?
- What amenity or facility would you/group want introduced in Cubbon Park/Lalbagh that would make your experience here better?
Anush Shetty from the Neralu team had this to say: “Parks exist so people can experience nature and green spaces. The entire purpose of this will be lost if we are introducing technology. The Horticulture Department should instead focus on making the parks more accessible. What about those people who have to think twice about spending Rs 10 on entry to the park?”
He also added that sociologically, the move to introduce Wi-fi seems extremely elitist. He draws a parallel to Bengaluru’s lakes, where some citizens are insistent on having a jogging track around the lake, but want the fishermen, for whom the lake is a means of income, to leave.
- Group activities like fitness, photography, yoga and cycling, meditation and walking. Viewing the beautiful botanical garden, the glass house, birds and flowers and simply enjoying free open space. A majority of the surveyed visitors were there to de-stress, relax and enjoy some peace of mind; not surprisingly a large percentage was working in the IT sector.
- The survey included visitors who were visiting the Park for the first time to octogenarians who have been visiting the park for close to 60 years.
- The main facility requirements suggested at Lalbagh were: better maintenance, more security, lake revival and stray dog menace. At Cubbon Park the suggested requirements were drinking water facilities and traffic ban on all days. There were also extreme requests to bring exotic plants and mobile jammers. The regulars (visitors who have regularly come for 10+ years) had only one request: “These places are reminiscent of Old Bengaluru. Please don’t change anything.”
When prodded on the need for Wi-Fi in these areas, a resounding 97% of the visitors surveyed voted NO.
D-voiS, the company providing Wi-Fi at MG road and a few other bus terminals was contacted to find out how the usage at the existing hot-spots have fared, but were unable to provide the statistics at the time of writing this article. From popular news articles, most recently an article in TOI dated July 16th, these hot-spots haven’t found many takers.
Do we really need Wi-Fi?
- Cubbon Park and Lalbagh are the only few remaining open, clean and green spaces reminiscent of the Garden City. Centrally located in Bengaluru, they provide citizens with the much-needed detox space. Detox from polluted air, crowded streets and technology. At a time in history where we have apps like Flipd to help get away from social media addiction, where open places which invite us to run around and socialise are drastically reducing, bringing Cubbon Park and Lalbagh into the ambit of free internet connectivity might not seem the best of ideas.
- The irrelevancy of a half hour free Wi-Fi at low speeds is best stated in the following words of a visitor: “When Vodafone provides me a 3G connection, why would I hook on to low speed Wi-Fi for half an hour of free internet?” Another visitor said, “To spend crores of public money on something like this irrelevant in today’s time.”
“There’s radiation everywhere, from mobile phones, from cell phone towers; people have learnt to live with it. With respect to the effects on ecology, while there have been no definitive theories proving that it is bad, very little is known about how birds respond to radiation, especially birds that are stationed in one place, like owls.” – Anush Shetty
- Doctors say prolonged exposure to radiation from devices such as Wi-Fi can cause headaches, sleeplessness, mental fatigue, hormonal changes in humans. Research has also shown the adverse effects of such radiation on small bird and mammal species. Though short term effects on these animals are not visible, observation has shown that, in the long run, the small birds and mammals move away from sources radiating electromagnetic fields.
- If the need is to provide a service for those citizens who do not have access to internet for emergency services like booking railway and bus tickets, then a beautifully designed kiosk at Bal Bhavan should do the trick.
- If providing internet as Wi-Fi is mandatory (for lack of funds, ease of access, etc), then the range of availability should be limited to a 20m radius/inside Bal Bhavan.
- Do basic surveys to find out what the users of these public parks actually need. And use the funds available to provide for these needs.
All said and done, ‘Digital India’ is a well-intentioned initiative to virtually connect the length and breadth of India. However the authorities must not take the document word for word, and must study and understand the cultural and social impact their decision might have. Decisions must be area-specific and need-specific.
Bengaluru is a culturally rich city with an abundant social life. Large open public spaces play a vital role in making Bengaluru the sociable and approachable city that it is. Let us keep it that way!!