Palace Grounds in royal mess

Palace Grounds in royal mess

Palace Grounds in royal mess

Politicians, officials and private parties collude in violating Supreme Court guidelines on using the City’s prime lung space.

The Palace Grounds, spread across 468 acres of prime land in the heart of the City where the famed Bangalore Palace is located, is in the news again. Here’s why: Citing Supreme Court guidelines, the State government recently directed the district administration to ensure no commercial activity is allowed on the Grounds. 

So what does the government mean by commercial activities here? Why this sudden interest in monitoring the Palace Grounds, even though the apex court guidelines were in place for more than a decade?

What does a blanket ban on activities such as amusement park, book exhibition, music concert or other cultural programmes mean for the common man for whom the Palace Grounds has been the most convenient public space to unwind during weekends? More importantly, why has the government not bothered to seek public opinion before taking a crucial decision on this land, the acquisition of which is mainly intended to develop it into a major ‘public’ space for the city? Deccan Herald ventured to find the answers.

K P Abraham, former president of the Residents’ Welfare Association of Bangalore East, says the entire episode of Palace Grounds so far has been another instance of the fence eating the crop. It is true the State government had brought the Bangalore Palace (Acquisition and Transfer) Act in 1996 to acquire this property belonging to the erstwhile Mysore Maharaja family.

This was to safeguard the unique historical and architectural legacy of the Palace Grounds and to develop it as a major lung space for Bangalore. However, once the Maharaja's only son Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar and other family members managed to secure a status quo order on the Palace Grounds from the Supreme Court, there has been no serious effort from the government’s side to resolve the legal tangle.
As Congress MLC R V Venkatesh, who raised the issue of the Palace Grounds in the Legislative Council recently, points out, none of the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in its interim order in 2001 regarding “restricted” use of Palace Grounds is being followed.

Over the years, he says, the government officials colluded with private parties to establish a parallel system to conduct various activities at the Grounds. One cannot rule out the involvement of politicians in the irregularities happening here, he observes. 
Venkatesh says the government officials concerned have not conducted regular inspections to ascertain what exactly are the activities conducted at the Palace Grounds.
Abraham feels the government at no point wanted to address the violations at the Palace Grounds or make concerted efforts to fight the case in the apex court. According to him, a few officials and politicians, who are getting favours from the illegal system there, manage to pressure the decision makers and hold them back.

Dhananjay K, a member of green group Hasiru Usiru, says the Supreme Court guidelines clearly state that no tree should be cut and no damage should be caused to the landscape at the Palace Grounds. However, a visit to the Grounds shows that enough damage has already been done to the greenery there. In fact, the government itself had chopped off trees in a failed attempt to construct a road inside the Grounds. In such a scenario, how can anyone hope for the fulfilment of the intention to acquire the Palace Grounds - that is to develop it into a botanical museum, horticultural garden and tree park, he asks.

Public consultation

The government’s failure to seek public opinion before making grand announcements is what angers many. Ranjith B Sindhe, a software professional, wonders at the scant regard of the govenment for public opinion before taking major decisions on the Palace Grounds.

“I read somewhere that book exhibitions and conferences can be held at the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre on Tumkur Road, instead of the Palace Grounds. Who has the time to travel such a long distance? The government should curb the irregularities at the Palace Grounds and allow activities which are of public importance and for public entertainment,” he says.

Shreyas Kottur, an engineering student, feels it is high time the government calls for a public debate on the use of the Palace Grounds as per the apex court guidelines.
“Why is the government silent on the ban on political rallies at the Grounds?. The public suffer due to long hours of traffic jams during political events,” says Kottur.

MLC Venkatesh opines that an easy way to resolve the legal tangle on the Palace Grounds is to call members of the royal family for an amicable settlement of the issue. In fact, there was scope for such a settlement in 2006, for which the government did not show much interest, he recalls.

All eyes are now on the meeting planned for working out ways to curb violations in the use of the Palace Grounds. Legislative Council chairperson D H Shankaramurthy will chair the meeting. When questioned about the future of the Palace Grounds, a senior minister said the meeting was scheduled during the third week of August and all problems were likely to be sorted out there.