If Mickey comes to Mandya

Miracle or Mirage

Proposed project site in the Brindavan Gardens which will be developed on the lines of Disneyland in the US, in Mysuru. DH Photo/ B H Shivakumar

The Karnataka government is planning to float a global tender to develop Brindavan Gardens in Mandya district on the lines of Disneyland in the US. The project will be spread across 336 acres of government land and the proposed budget is Rs 1,425 crore. The project is to be carried out under a public-private partnership. It has been tentatively announced that the state government will not spend even a rupee on it.

The main features proposed are to construct a penguin zoo, world-class fountain, vast botanical gardens, architectural marvels of Karnataka, a wax museum, an aroma garden and a tall glass castle showcasing laser fireworks. The estimated duration to complete the proposed project is 2.5 years. But there are a few concerns that must be addressed before the project proceeds any further.

Krishnarajasagar Dam (KRS) and Brindavan Gardens have a special page in the history of Mysore princely state. It was the brainchild of Dewan Sir M Visvesvaraya and was completed in 1931 under the reign of Maharaja Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV. At the time of completion, KRS was the largest reservoir in Asia and this accolade did not come on a platter. When the construction cost exceeded the budgeted outlay for the dam, Queen Kempananjammanni sold her personal jewellery, including diamonds, ornaments, gold and silver plates to fund the construction. Since then, KRS, built on Cauvery river has been the main source of drinking water for Mysuru and major parts of Bengaluru. Adjoining the dam is the Brindavan Gardens, designed on the lines of Mughal Gardens and spread across 60 acres.

The Cauvery flows from Bhagamandala to the Bay of Bengal, which is around 800 km. This proposed project of a fantasy park near KRS could impede the major water source for the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The river basin is also the home for Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, which hosts migratory birds from faraway places like Siberia, around 5,700 km away.

The increase in the magnitude of human interference from the process of construction till the operationalisation of the project may disturb the habitat of the various endangered species of the sanctuary. An important feature highlighted in the proposed project is construction of a penguin zoo. It is common knowledge that this region is not a natural habitat for penguins. On the one hand, the natural habitat of a variety of migratory birds is endangered and, on the other hand, an artificial habitat is forced upon another.

Another concern is that the district of Mandya was under drought over the past few years. Irrigation was a major problem during this period, till the region received a good amount of rainfall recently. There is also a major sense of despair among the people of Mandya that their water needs are not prioritised. One of the major features of the proposed project is to build a water theme park, along with a boating expedition. These attractions, along with the functioning of the entire project, will increase the demand for water immensely. If the region in future faces water shortage for cultivation and drinking purposes, then having a water sports theme park would be to choose luxury over needs.

One of the key arguments for the project is to make the place a major spot of tourist attraction. But KRS and Brindavan Gardens already attract at least two million tourists every year. It must be noted that KRS is 20 km away from Mysuru and 18 km away from Srirangapattana, both of which are important tourist destinations by themselves. The Amba Vilas Palace in Mysuru is the second most visited tourist spot in India after the Taj Mahal.

Srirangapattana is home to a number of historical, pilgrimage and natural sites of attraction. Dariya Daulat Palace, Tippu’s Fort, Ranganathaswamy Temple, Nimishamba Temple, Masjid-i-Ala, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Balmuri falls are just a few to name. The region has no dearth of tourism, and is still grappling with ways to provide sufficient infrastructure to the current inflow.

Why Disney model won’t work?

There is ample amount of space for Disneyland in Florida. Apart from the theme park, Disneyland has additional infrastructure facilities like planned housing centres for its staff, recycling units, monorail, golf course and numerous resorts. The Walt Disney World has around 25,000 acres and not even half of it is used. Unlike Florida, the area around Brindavan gardens faces a shortage of space to provide these infrastructure facilities.

The Karnataka government has said that the entire project will be housed in a mere 336 acres of government land and it will not acquire any private land. Can one be sure that the government will adhere to this premise? Once the construction begins, there would be a spill-over effect on land prices. This could well lead to the conversion of fertile agricultural land for commercial purposes.

The project seems to be riddled with a desire to cosmetically emulate the western image of fantasy parks. The trademark style of Disney is to narrate a story with each of their structures in the park, be it the castles, lamp posts or benches. In their fantasy parks, detailing goes to the extent of coordinating even the sounds and smells to a specific theme. On the whole, all of them present a coherent world of fantasy. The attractions, rides, characters, architectures and dining experiences all carry imprints of the Disney entertainment culture, American history and lifestyle.

One who reads the initial plan for the Mandya fantasy park project would be unsure as to what the project is trying to emulate. Currently, it showcases a confused picture, containing a statue of goddess Cauvery, a penguin zoo, aroma garden and a street showcasing the glory of old Mysore.

It needs to be seen whether Mickey’s arrival in Mandya will turn out to be a miracle or a mirage!

(Prajwal N, Research Scholar at ISEC, Bengaluru, was formerly an intern at Walt Disney World, Florida; Vijayamba R is Research Scholar at ISI, Bengaluru)

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