Wednesday 14 August 2013

An amendment to install statues

When Governments and authorities all over the world are trying to regenerate the forests that have vanished and taken upon themselves the task to preserve and protect the existing parks and lung spaces, the Karnataka Government recently came up with a dubious decision to delete several buildings from the Cubbon Park limits. The reason-it wanted to install more statues and the Cubbon Park Act was coming in the way.
The Cubbon Park is the second oldest park in Bangalore after the Lalbagh. While the credit for founding Lalbagh goes to Hyder Ali and its subsequent development to Tipu Sultan, it was the British who were responsible for development of Cubbon Park which was conceived in 1870.
This park has always been in the eye of controversy, be it the decision to denotify its boundaries or allow development inside the park. This time around, the very Government that passed a law to protect the park and its environs has passed another law to allow it to install more statues in front of Vidhana Soudha and Vikasa Soudha and other buildings which it has taken out of the purview of the Preservation of Parks Act.
When the park was initially laid out on 91 acres, it was only conceived as an extension of the magnificent Residency (Raj Bhavan today) that Mark Cubbon built for himself. The park then faced the Residency and behind the park was vast open ground which sloped towards the Sampangi tank to one side and Siddikatte tank on the other side (Ulsoor Gate side).
After Cubbon left for England by ship, Bowring purchased the bungalow from Government funds and decided to permanently convert it into the official quarters of the Chief Commissioners of Mysore. Even as Bowring stayed in the Residency, Col. John Meade developed the park on 100 acres on land which originally belonged to the Vanniyars.
The Residency was located then at the highest point in Bangalore, High Grounds (3031 feet above sea level), and it was built between 1840 and 1842. The garden below was a perfect contrast to the white bungalow.
Later, the High Court or Attara Katcheri was constructed around the lawns of the park and this was sometime in 1881. By then, the park had extended to 325 acres and it was the buffer between the Pete or old Bangalore and the Cantonment or the Civil and Military Station.
The park was expanded in 1910, 1917 and 1930 and at the time of Independence it sprawled over 325 acres.  
Today, the park has shrunk to just 190 acres and yet it is home to 6000 species of plants and trees apart from playing a perfect host to at least 50 of the 153 species of butterflies found in Bangalore. The park area near the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association has the City’s biggest casuarina and the oldest Silver oak trees in Bangalore. The silver oaks were brought in from Australia.
Today, the Cubbon Park is being looked after by the Horticulture Department. When it was initially planned and in the decades later, it was the Bangalore Municipality which zealously guarded the parka and other public places of Bangalore.
The regulations relating to construction of houses, protection of  trees and parks and playgrounds and other acts relating to town planning were in force much before the Town and Country Planning Act, Municipal law, Outline Development Plan and Comprehensive Development Plan (old and new) came to be written and passed.
The earliest zoning regulations in Bangalore came into being on July 2, 1892 when Arcot Srinivasachar was the President of the Bangalore Municipality. Then, Sir K. Seshadri Iyer was Dewan of Mysore and Sir T.R.A. Thumboochetty (later officiating Dewan) was Chief Judge of Mysore.  
The building regulations were enshrined in the then revenue manual called Mysore Revenue Manual and they had sections where house building was prohibited. One such prohibited area was Sidney Road which is today known as Kasturba Road.
The manual has delineated the boundary along several areas where building activity, sinking of wells and excavations are prohibited. This is issued in the July 1892 copy of the manual.
The only buildings permitted on Sydney Road was the Government Museum in 1876 and the Cubbon Park police station building in 1910. However, this rule was relaxed during the Forties and Fifties and the municipal authorities permitted the construction of bungalows on Kasturba Road opposite the Museum in what was then called MacIver Town.
The real threat to the once pristine park was after Indian attained Independence in 1947. Buildings began coming up on all sides of the park and the extent of the park also began whittling down.
Public outcry forced the State Government to enact the Parks Preservation Act.
One of  the forgotten institutions of Bangalore, the Bangalore Urban Arts Commission (BUAC) headed by M.A. Parthasarthy which was set up in the late 1970s, was the first to spearhead a movement to beautify Bangalore and also to save Cubbon Park from further onslaught.
The BUAC was against allowing demonstrations, protests, rallies and strikes in the park and in 1993 a committee to suggest ways to beautify Bangalore also called for banning all types of  agitations within the park premises.
The committee was called the High-Powered Committee for the beautfication of Bangalore and it was a natural corollary of the Lakshman Rau Committee which reported on the status of tans and lakes in and around Bangalore.
From the 1980s onwards, the police slowly began clamping down on protests in the park and urged the protesters to organize their agitations in other areas such as Jakkarayana Kere, K. R. Circle, Mysore Bank Circle. They also restricted the protests in Cubbon Park to the Gopala Gowda Circle.
In 1983, the Government included the Raj Bhavan, the Vidhana Soudha, the LRDE (the junction of Ali Askar Road and Infantry Road) and the Legislators’ Home (Basaveshwara Circle), totalling 76 acres, in the area of the park.
When the Government sought to denotify these areas from the park land, the first agitation to protect the park was launched. There were demonstrations, dharnas, public protests and even court cases to preserve the park.
In 1995, the High Court admitted a public interest litigation (PIL)   petition by N.H. Desai against the failure of the authorities to remove construction debris from the park. He also wanted the Government to ban rallies in the area.
In 1997 the Government bowed in to public demands and banned public rallies in the park. Subsequently, on July 30, 1998, the then Government of Karnataka revised the boundaries of Cubbon Park and specified the new limits by deleting 32 acres from its limits. This was done to ensure that the  that land on which it planned to construct an annexe to the Legislators’ Home that was being built since 1996 would not face any legal hurdle.
The Parks Act was amended a few years ago to permit the use of land belonging to both Cubbon Park and  Lalbagh by Namma Metro. When the Government carried out the amendment, we were told that it was only a one time measure and that it was for a good public cause. This was the argument that the Advocate-General advanced before the Karnataka High Court when it was hearing the case relating to Cubbon Park and Namma Metro.   
Now comes another amendment and this is to give a free-all to the Government to install statues. The Government gave this reason while introducing this amendment in the Legislative Council.
The Council, in turn, unanimously adopted a legislation deleting Vidhana Soudha, Vikasa Soudha, Raj Bhavan and Multi-Storyed buildings from the limits of Cubbon Park.
Thus a revised Karnataka Government Parks (Preservation) (Amendment) Bill, 2013 was passed deleting these buildings from its ambit. Presently all these buildings come under Cubbon Park notified area and, hence, any construction and even renovation is strictly governed under the ambit of the act.
The Government said it wanted to install statues of  Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri  in front of the Vidhana Soudha.  As the Vidhana Soudha and Vikasa Soudha are within the limits of Cubbon Park, the existing law does not allow for installation of statues anymore.
The Government therefore brought in the amendment to facilitate construction of  statues for Mahatma Gandhi on the land between Vidhana and Vikasa Soudha.
An interesting aside is that though the bill was approved, the Leader of the Opposition in the House, D V Sadananda Gowda, expressed concern over the misuse of the amended law or rather Act.
He said, “Our concern is that in future statues of father, son, brother, mother who were in politics should not come up.”  When some Congress members sought to know whom he was referring to as father-son, the BJP leader said his statement was simple that everyone can guess.
Another BJP member B J Puttaswamy urged the Government not to convert Vidhana Soudha and Vikasa Soudha complex to a graveyard by installing statues.

Well, two members of the Legislature have already foretold what happens in the future. Unfortunately, Bangaloreans this time around have remained quiet over the amendment. They are yet to wake up to the dangers of the amended Act.    

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