Bengaluru Cubbon Park: Protect our beloved park

Top view of Sri Chamarajendra Park (Cubbon Park) in Bengaluru. Photo by S K Dinesh

The area that is now Cubbon Park was once an open ground riven in places with water channels, dotted with trees and rocks. A formal park was laid out in 1870 by Richard Sankey. Early photos of the park show that much of it had the manicured look of a landscaped English garden. But this changed over the years and today, the park is a glorious mix of grand old silk cotton trees, magnificent Java figs, gnarled mango trees, gulmohurs, honges, and many others.

Cubbon Park came up around the already existing high court building , but other buildings like the new public offices, Reserve Bank of India, tennis courts and so on were all built on park land. In the early 1900s, when the Seshadri Memorial Hall and statue were erected, the park expanded to include them. However, since the 1970s, there has only been a steady erosion of this green space.

The proposal for a seven-storey building near the Press Club is the latest assault on the park. Not much is known about the old election commission office, which is planned to be demolished to make way for the annexe. Based on its architectural style, the modest bungalow-like structure appears to possibly date from the late 1800s. We do not believe this graceful, old building should be demolished, and most definitely not to make way for a seven-storey structure. Yes, offices need to expand, but this is not the place to expand into.

A multi-storey structure today can set a dangerous precedent for further constructions around the park. A 2015 government notification placed the buildings here outside the park’s boundaries, and so outside the purview of laws that protect parks.

But ecology does not know such boundaries. There are trees, birds, earthworms, beetles and butterflies in the park on the other side of this manmade line. What happens to them once the clamour of construction begins, bringing with it excavation pits, drilling, jackhammers, construction cranes, tractors, harsh lights and cement dust? All that to be followed by increased traffic and footfalls. If we do not want fresh air and the twitter of birds to be replaced by traffic fumes and car horns, we must insist on some areas being sacrosanct and inviolate.

Bengaluru has a long tradition of civic activism. In 1984, a proposal to demolish the high court building led to protests, press conferences and a PIL. The petition was dismissed, but the government listened to the voice of the people and decided against demolishing the building. More recently, ESG, INTACH, Hasiru Usiru and many other voluntary groups have fought against tree-cutting, against the Metro nibbling at Lalbagh and to save Ballabrooie. The draft Revised Master Plan-2031 contains heritage regulations that we desperately need, regulations that could stop this incessant attack on heritage, both built and natural.

But until such regulations are approved and put in place, it is up to us citizens to remain vigilant and to turn up to protect our beloved city when it is in peril.

(Meera Iyer, convener, INTACH, Bengaluru Chapter)

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