Yes, the parks have disappeared… and the Monorail is coming

In the midst of all the confusion that Metro Rail has created in Madras that is Chennai, (more confusion will be created when the Monorail project takes off), we are losing more and more lung space and, very sadly, some of the parks along the planned route are fast disappearing, or have already disappeared.

When I had mentioned on Facebook about the Theosophical Society, thankfully, still remaining a sort of oasis in a city that is fast losing its tree cover, a friend quickly asked me to shut up, lest the powers that be plan something over or under the Adyar gardens of the Society and set about destroying a heritage site. He is right, but I’m sure even the powers that be cannot easily ride roughshod over property belonging to a well-known world institution that happens to have its headquarters in Chennai. But, of course, he has made his point.

Another friend is aghast at the fate that has befallen the once spacious and beautiful Shenoy Nagar Park, a fairly large lung space in the city. She perhaps forgot to mention a similar fate ‘bestowed’ by the powers that be on the park on First Avenue in Ashok Nagar. The park was built and inaugurated with much fanfare after a local citizens group had won a case that went right up to the Supreme Court (if I’m not mistaken). That space was encroached on and used for all kinds of shady purposes, with an eatery called Midnight Masala fronting one part on the roadside; an appropriate name indeed. When the group won the case, the encroachers were bundled out the very next day and soon the Mayor and others got down to brass-tacks and eventually decided in favour of a park, much to the relief of all the residents. The park turned out to be a crowd puller, with young and old converging there every day taking turns at the swing or simply doing the rounds. Now, thanks to Metro Rail, the park is closed and has become a godown of sorts – for the concerned Metro Rail contractor.

Am sure there are other parks and public spaces in Chennai that have been taken up by Metro Rail authorities. Does E. Sreedharan, India’s Metro Rail Man, who was instrumental in providing the capital the Metro and also headed the Konkan Railway project, even know what’s going on in cities like Chennai where Metro Rail work is progressing apace? Am sure he doesn’t. A person of discipline who is not given to discounting the voice of the masses would surely not have let public parks and temples and schools disappear. An old, historic temple in the Police Training College campus in Ashok Nagar was under threat until local voices reached a crescendo. Part of the Jawahar Vidyalaya School buildings has become an empty shell now.

If the Metro in Delhi skirts the Yamuna and does not pass through congested areas, the same is not the case in Bangalore and Chennai. In Calcutta, life was hell while work on the Metro progressed at snail’s pace for years. Today, the Metro is being expanded in outer areas of the city.

We all know the number of tress cut down mercilessly on Bangalore’s heritage walkway, MG Road. I still remember walking down the road early mornings in the early 1980s when the Garden City had a spring in the air and it used to drizzle almost daily throughout the year. That Bangalore has been lost for generations. There is official talk about sapling being planted on MG Road once Metro Rail work is over, but will we be alive to see the saplings grow into sturdy trees. Surely not the coming generation or two. It takes years for a sapling to blossom into a full-grown tree.

The one good (or fortunate) thing in Bangalore is that most of the old city space is owned by the defence establishment. The city grew up as a cantonment town, and the cantonment area is still one of the best parts of Bangalore. With defence you can’t fool around and there is no way you can encroach on its property. So, politicians and our wise city planners have no free reign in these areas. An example is the area occupied by the Defence Research & Development Organisation. I passed that way last week while heading to relatives’ homes in CV Raman Nagar and Kaggadasapura. What a wonderful sight the huge, centuries-old trees provided. I wished I could have rented a house in that area. The air itself was unadulterated, full of the scent of tree leaves and flowers. I felt envious of the people living there.

Unfortunately, Chennai does not have that status and except perhaps for Avadi where there is the Heavy Vehicles Factory, ensconced in a lovely township that is a throwback to the old, and a small pocket in Tambaram, there is little defence property. And now, with the Monorail set to become reality, I wonder what else is in store.

Pictures from Bangalore, taken during my recent visit: a view from a Godrej Properties high-rise in Hebbal which is fast losing its green cover; the bench where I often sit, surrounded by greenery and flowers, and watch the migratory birds in the ITC campus opposite; two shots taken within two kilometers, of the road leading through the DRDO campus on to CV Raman Nagar (this is proof of how well the Indian Defence takes care of its property); and did you say plants simply love Bangalore? yes, they do, they just glow and blossom like women deeply in love.


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