Activist Leo Saldanha on how Bangaloreans saved Cubbon ParkMar 27, 2020, 21 54 | Updated: Feb 22, 2021, 23 34
This article was published in The Bangalore Monthly in November 1998.
The present Legislators Home is already a very huge complex indeed; with luxurious suites for legislators (from all over Karnataka) to live in when the Assemblies are in session.
But the legislators say that this is not enough. Most of them demand an Annexe - the one they are building next door - to have their families live with them. It is to be able to build the LH annexe that the government needs to denotify areas of Cubbon Park. In reality the construction of the LH Annexe began almost two years prior to the de-notification which is by all evidence available, a blatantly illegal move.
And as concerned citizens and environmental experts take up the issue, we asked Leo Saldhana, an activist in the forefront of the battle to save Cubbon Park, to author this month’s cover story.
Saldanha's (normally unflappable) disposition makes chilling reading and clearly, if we Bangaloreans are not motivated enough to support the cause, we may well lose the park to the selfish interests of those who wish to build concrete structures in it. I assume that people are sufficiently well-informed about the devastation which will be caused to Bangalore’s environment if this was allowed to happen.
THE BATTLE FOR CUBBON PARK
“The Annexe is not in Cubbon Park, it is coming up opposite the Telephone Exchange” exclaimed Anant Nag, Minister For Bangalore Development. He was defending the Karnataka Government’s 30th July, de-notification of over 44 acres of Cubbon Park.
The term "de-notification" here simply means that the government has arbitrarily decided that a section of Cubbon Park will no longer be a park. So it can be used for alternative purposes. Construction, for example.
Going one up on Nag was Law Minister, M.C. Nanaiah. In a press conference specifically called to defend the de-notification, he stated: “Not a single inch of Cubbon Park has been allowed to shrink. We know the property is people’s lung space and belongs to them. Let the environmentalists demanding withdrawal of the notification come for a joint inspection of the entire 300 acres and satisfy themselves. The government is not so insensitive.”
Although he earlier said he wouldn’t like to comment, Horticulture Minister D. T. Jayakumar came out of his sulk. He accused “self-appointed environmentalists of creating unnecessary controversy” about Cubbon Park. He claimed there was no threat. In fact, he said, it was by his initiative that the annual allocation for the maintenance of Cubbon Park had increased from a measly Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 40 lakh. Yet, he lamented, “No one is interested in seeing the good work done by my Ministry. I do not know why. I invite the environmentalists to join me in tree planting in the park… let me see how many of them are serious about it.”
Eminent personalities like playwright Girish Karnad, former Chief Secretary TP Issar, Trustee of the Karnataka Parks and Gardens Trust Jagan Muthanna and ornithologist Zafar Futehally met Chief Minister Patel asking him to withdraw the notification. In his characteristic style, Patel shrugged and said he would do nothing about it.
The good thing, if at all, is that the controversy seems to have pricked the conscience of these ministers. It would appear that ‘some environmentalists’ have become a nuisance in the daily lives of Messrs. Nag Nanaiah and Jayakumar.
The Radio Phone-in Show
Irked and deeply embarrassed by public protest, Nanaiah offered to clarify “misguided” impressions of the Government’s move in a special phone-in program on All India Radio, to “use the same tool - media - to wipe out the wrong impression that has been created”. The media publicised this program.
On the appointed day, I sat in the AIR studio with Nanaiah, to represent the concerns of the “Save Cubbon Park” campaign. He declared with gusto that he would convince the people. “They have been taken for a ride by these ‘activists’ and the ‘media’,” he exclaimed.
Several noted Bangaloreans called in. Thespian Girish Karnad said: “Today you will de-notify the park for the legislator’s house. Tomorrow it will be for the High Court, the day after for the Press Club. Where is the end to this de-notification?”
Arun Agarwal, (the Monthly’s readers will remember him as thee anti-Cogentrix activist), accused the Minister of being an “universal apologist for the government.”
When the barrage of calls started to come in, Nanaiah’s defence of the de-notification first lay in the details.
“17.04 acres from the musical fountain (formerly LRDE) has been made into a separate park. 17 acres of Raj Bhavan has been brought into the care of the Governor. How can you call that Cubbon Park when you cannot walk in that area? 10.24 acres of the Legislator’s home is buildings and shops. 1.76 acres, the rock garden, has remained a garden. Where is the violation? I repeat, not a single inch of Cubbon Park has shrunk.”
When the questions became more specific, the minister found himself short of answers.
Dilip Bafna, a concerned citizen, took cause with Nanaiah’s remark that LRDE was still a part of the park. There are plans to put up a sewage treatment plant there, he angrily reminded the minister.
Shivarthy from Chamarajpet, asked why the Annexe was required when the crores spent on the National Games Township Complex was going waste. (The government has been unable to sell the 2,000 flats built there.) Why couldn’t the legislators stay there?
Nalini Ramanna asked why the LH Annexe could not be put up in the present Central Jail Complex.
Caller after caller questioned Mr. Nanaiah’s assertion “...not a single inch of the park has shrunk.”
If everything was just fine, they asked, where was the need for de-notification? To this, the minister repeatedly claimed that there had been no violation and that the LH Annexe was a legal construction.
This led to two other pertinent questions.
Had building clearances been obtained before construction?, and
Had the Bangalore Development Authority confirmed the change of land use from park to built-up area?
The minister was not sure. He would need to check on that.
Contrast this with the enthusiasm the BDA’s squads employ to pursue the demolition of illegally built-up basement areas of high rise buildings.
As I sat in the studio, I could see that Mr. Nanaiah was thoroughly ruffled. He invited everybody for an “on the spot” inspection and left the studio with the assertion that he would “wipe out the wrong impression that had been created.”
Simple though it may sound, the heart of the controversy lies in defining Cubbon Park’s boundaries. How big is it really? And what areas are under the protection of the legislation?
Mr. Nanaiah (preposterously) suggests that the effective Cubbon Park --- the Cubbon Park that you and I can see --- is not under threat.
But in their attempts to circumvent this legislation, the government has steadily found ways to encroach upon the park's boundaries.
Several people assume that the de-notification of 30th July, is merely the attempt to legalise the illegal construction of the LH Annexe --- a legality effected by the extraordinary protection offered to Cubbon Park (and Lal Bagh) by the enactment of the Karnataka Parks (Preservation) Act of 1975.
But the government’s duplicity in the attempts to destroy the people’s heritage becomes even more acute when you consider that some years ago, the former government of Veerappa Moily had intended to construct a five-star hotel in the park, in the LRDE (the musical fountain) area. The ultimate irony? Mr. Nanaiah himself claims to have scuttled this move when he was the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.
The bureaucracy has not helped to stop this illegitimacy.
The Commissioner and Chairman of the Bangalore Development Authority, supreme commanders of the land-use laws, have not voiced their constitutional protest.
Similarly disposed are the Mayor and Commissioner of the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike whose power it is to legally clear every building construction within the city, or demolish illegal structures. (Are you listening Mr. “Demolition Man” Munikrishna?)
Conspicuous by their astonishing silence is the Bangalore Urban Arts Commission, perched as they are atop the Viswesvaraya Towers with the best view of Cubbon Park in the entire city. Seems as though they are bound by the will and consideration of their political bosses, not the law.
When you and I, (un-influential, un-influenced and miserable victims of the bureaucracy-political nexus) cannot rely on the administration of the law, we need to rely on each other. For our only hope is the law. And to have the law respected and enforced, we need to voice our concerns in a sustained campaign of public protest. And look beyond empty assurances like Mr. Nanaiah’s, which only serve to pull wool over our eyes.
The protest to save Cubbon Park is not a self-serving piece of protest by a few ‘environmentalists’. Cubbon Park is an emotional issue for all Bangaloreans. This one space does not threaten to exclude anybody. Cubbon Park is not a tourist show-piece.
Not surprisingly, in a most dramatic manner, Cubbon Park has pitched Bangaloreans in a battle against their very representatives.
It is a battle of wits, of power, of strength.
And the press has lent its credible and whole-hearted support --- a radical shift indeed for this battle. A battle in which there is sad evidence that the law-breakers are the law-makers.
The sustainability of a city is characterised by the righteous protection of its land. Parks and open spaces are created not out of political necessity or willingness, but by sheer necessity of survival within a densely crowded and inhumane habitat.
Yet, the sad picture of Bangalore today is that almost all of our parks and open spaces are in such dismal condition, that it is as though our city is dying.
The wild beauty of Cubbon Park is incomparable. No other city can boast of 300 acres (or is it just 100 acres?) of verdant splendour in its very heart.
If we cannot beautify it, the least we can do is to retain it and it seems as though we aren’t doing such a great job of it either.
The battle to save Cubbon Park therefore, is a whole-hearted and unified struggle to save our habitat.
And Thence the Citizens Become Activists
The first battle (in this ongoing war) was pioneered by Bangalorean Bimal Desai and lawyer, MG Kumar.
(We profiled them in the May 1996 issue of The Bangalore Monthly, archived here: https://bangalore.explocity.com/article/the-conspiracy-to-kill-cubbon-park/ - Ed.)
For years Desai and Kumar have been fighting one Public Interest Litigation after another to protect Cubbon Park.
The early days of this war were marked by the judicial activism of Justice MF Saldanha, who issued (an unprecedented suo-moto order to restore the vast damage that had already been caused to the park and has relentlessly pursued the cause.
Despite all that, Desai and Kumar still do not even have access to a definitive and official map of the Park.
After the recent announcement to denotify areas of the park, scores of furious Bangaloreans have rolled up their sleeves.
Dharma Somashekar, Sheela Gowda, Kripa, Saraswathi Ganapathi, Nalini Ramanna, Shobha Abraham and others have started a daily sit-in of women and mothers, at the Queen Victoria statue. They will protest there until the notification is withdrawn.
They have collected the signatures of children from all over Bangalore -- over 30,000 so far.
VK Somashekar, Vijay Kumar Sharma, Dr Ravindra and KV Narenda have initiated a massive educational exercise of students in identifying the flora and fauna of Cubbon Park, making the park an excellent environmental educational space.
Thespians Karnad and Govinda Rao, artists Yusuf Arakkal and SG Vasudev, sculptor Balan Nambiar and cartoonist Maya Kamath --- are among the leading cultural voices who feel that Cubbon Park is a great space for creative inspiration.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Amarnath Kamath, Ruby Kamden, Jeanne Marie Boga, Mohan Bopaiah are joining the protest in a demonstration of corporate Bangalore’s concern for the park.
Public interest bodies, with their considerable visibility and clout are strengthening this massive up-welling of anger and resistance against the Government’s brashness.
They include animal welfare groups such as Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA), People for Animals (PFA) and Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). And civic organisations and NGOs such as CIVIC, Swabhimana, Environment Support Group, SICHREM, Belaku Trust, Centre for Science and Technology and others.
Inspired by the amazing volume of the battle for Cubbon Park, residents’ organisations and neighbourhood groups are moving towards saving their local parks, playgrounds and open spaces.
A Fight to the Finish
It is clear that citizens are up in protest and they ask that the government must bow its head in shame and relent by withdrawing the de-notification.
The battle for Cubbon Park is not restricted to Cubbon Park alone. It is clear that the protest is representative of the larger alliance of Bangaloreans, hopefully with their representatives, to make Bangalore the city we collectively desire.
Here’s how the denotification gets them their land. 1) 17.0 acres from the musical fountain area formerly the Defence Ministry’s LRDE Complex 2) 17 acres from Raj Bhavan 3) 10.24 acres from around the Legislators' Home; 4) 1.76 acres of rock garden adjacent to the Legislators’ Home. But review of the areas mentioned above proves that the denotification gives the government use of Bangalore’s very heart.
How You Can Help
The way Bangaloreans have risen to in response to the “Save Cubbon Park” campaign, tells us that we are willing to wake up and do anything that is needed to save our city.
If you wish to help, come to Cubbon Park on Children’s Day, 14th November.
We plan to link hands, wearing green ribbons, along the “Legal Limits” of the park.
If the notification has since been withdrawn, it will be a celebration of our collective victory.
If not, it will be a great demonstration of our will to intensify our protest against the de-notification --- and indeed, vilification --- of Cubbon Park and of Bangalore itself.
A Bite of the Big Apple
And since our government looks to the West for so many of its lessons, I provide them a lesson from the Big Apple. In his “State of the Parks” address delivered earlier this year, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani stated: “And even as we work to improve our parks today, we are committed to growing and expanding city park land even further to protect our environment and to provide beautiful places for our citizens in the future. Since January 1994, we have acquired a total of 746 new acres. This administration has doubled the number of acres acquired in the four years before I took office.”
Take heed, Mayor Huchappa.
This statement comes from the Mayor of New York City, one of the most densely populated and built over cities in the world. By far more crowded and built-over than Bangalore. And New York is actually increasing its park space.
Mr. Mayor, can your crusade become ---- for what is left of your term --- as Dr. V. Chandrashekar put it, “Beautify, Not Denotify”?
For this, you will be remembered forever, much more than for your pot-hole crusade.
ABOUT LEO SALDANHA
Leo Saldhana, one of the city’s most vocal environmental activists, can be found at Environmental Support Group , 36 Reservoir Road, Basavanagudi, Bangalore 560 004 (Pager: 9624-241365) please keep your messages short. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note: This is from 1998. This is not the current information and we are quite sure that Mr Saldanha does not carry a pager now, in 2020. - Ed.)