Overdue ‘Heritage Laws’ must be put in place, and the Draft Revised Master Plan 2031 mentioning heritage guidelines must be passed. If we are to preserve any soul left of the city for the future, we have no choice but to do these quickly. The recent news of a seven-storied high court annexe coming up within Cubbon Park has shocked many of us. There was that same sinking feeling, the feeling of helplessness that we beleaguered Bengalureans seem to feel again and again. Without getting into the hows and whys of this specific decision and the irony of it, there has been such a constant erosion of our shared public spaces and green belts over the years that we seem to have permanent scabs where wounds used to be. The much-loved Cubbon Park has been the cynosure of many acquisitive eyes and has already shrunk 30% in the last century, from 300 to 197 acres. As it provides one of the few lung spaces in this beleaguered city of ours, the citizens’ collective angst is palpable. However, we can’t keep reacting, in the absence of processes and guidelines.
‘Heritage Beku’ set up an online petition which has already gathered close to 5,000 signatures, and calls and messages started mounting, queries were unanswered. We, as a citizen heritage group, tried to reach the petitioners, the chief minister and other stakeholders, but yes, it was the Diwali holidays.
Comparisons may be odious, but one cannot imagine Hyde Park in London or Central Park in New York being similarly encroached upon even though they form part of bigger mega-cities than Bengaluru. People would just not stand for it, though every real estate king knows full well the value of those pieces of real estate. For that matter, you can’t even build a higher house or balcony if your neighbours object to their loss of view. So, why are our heritage buildings and green spaces so dispensable? It’s not the lack of trillions of dollars in the economy that make us less developed; it’s the lack of respect for our shared heritage, spaces and ecology among other things. Look around at any heritage fort, temple, building, park and you will see the tenuousness of its existence. That stings. It must change.
Over a decade ago, when the Metro was being built on iconic, beloved MG Road, and many begged the BMRCL to ‘bury the Metro’, there was little collective energy or belief in the tenuous citizen voice. We just didn’t know enough and we didn’t know how, even if we cared, we were the victims, and the city started crumbling in front of our eyes. We will never let that happen again. Given the court’s ruling banning any construction in Cubbon Park, that this seven-storey annexe, which is also a security risk, given the VIP area, has been allowed, and a heritage building over a 100 years old will be razed to make way, the outrage and anguish are rippling out in ever widening circles as we speak.
We have moved towards a faceless era of glass, cement and concrete. Bengaluru’s green cover has come down to 3%, according to the Indian Institute of Science. Look at the state of Delhi and its problems with air pollution and you will know that that day is not far off in Bengaluru. There is no joy in this prospect, unless one is a manufacturer of air purifiers or gas masks.
However, it’s not the powers-that-be that are solely responsible for this sad state of affairs, private greed and our disregard for everything outside oneself is endemic and is as much a cause. So, from scratching ‘X loves Y’ on ancient relics, to throwing garbage when a dustbin is around, to hacking trees when they come in ‘our way’, it has been a part of our troubled cultural ethos, and an insidiously powerful lassitude.
This proposed construction is symbolic of the many other constant erosions and knife-thrusts we face to our city, its greenery and its heritage buildings. As a city that now has its share of awakened citizenry, such actions fortunately don’t pass muster without comment, censure or protest. The fourth leg of democracy is alive and kicking in Bengaluru. This wasn’t always the case in the past, which is why the monstrosity of the overhead metro on MG Road exists as a sore reminder of what might be, if the right questions are not asked in time and we do not engage democratically to stand up for our city.
The angst of the many stakeholders has to be addressed and better answers found than concretizing what’s left of Cubbon Park. However, we trust that the courts will certainly apply themselves to the macro issue at hand. I hope and pray that wiser counsel will prevail with the involvement of the many intelligent and sensitive people that are collectively part of this decision, or should be.
Someone said they would probably have to show their grandchildren the statue of Sir Mark Cubbon and one solitary tree, in a tall sea of concrete and glass buildings, and tell them, “Look that’s Bengaluru’s famous Cubbon Park.” It’s a dark, sombre picture, as is the humour. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.
(The writer is a CXO search consultant and Founder, Heritage Beku)