BHAMY V. SHENOY writes: Friday, 7 February 2008, should go down as a red-letter day for civic activism in general and for park lovers in particular as far as saving our open public spaces goes.
It was the day when under the direction of P. Manivannan, the Commissioner of the Mysore City Corporation, an illegal construction (rumoured to have been built to serve as a “guest house” for a former MCC Commissioner!) in one of Mysore’s more beautiful parks was demolished to comply with a court judgment of 28 June 2000.
As the building was being constructed in the Cheluvamba Park in 1994, Dr. Jayaram, a resident living opposite the park took photographs and brought them to the attention of the Mysore Grahakara Parishat, an NGO. This resulted in MGP initiating a movement to save the park.
First, MGP mobilised public support and held a protest in front of the half-constructed building as can be seen from the photo below. Though there was good public support, most of the “literate” residents of Brindavan Apartments, situated bang in front of the park, did not take part in the protest despite requests to join in. On the other hand, some of them even ridiculed MGP’s efforts of trying to save the park.
Later, MGP filed a case in the civil court where the judgment was in favour of MGP. The court agreed that the City Corporation had violated the Karnataka Parks, Play Field and Open Spaces Act by constructing a new building of 810 square feet when an old building of 92 square feet was already in existence.
The court ruled that MCC could construct a building having a dimension less than 322 square feet and and that too for storage purpose only, and ordered the demolition of additional space of 580 square feet.
Instead of complying with the order, the City Corporation decided to appeal the case in a higher court. MGP in turn too appealed to a higher court requesting the recovery of funds spent on the illegal construction from the commissioner who had sanctioned it.
Since 2000 both these cases had been pending in the court. With the arrival of each new MCC commissioner, MGP requested the demolition of the building in Cheluvamba Park to show to the residents that MCC, which wants citizens to comply with the law, complies with the law itself.
Finally, it took the arrival of Manivannan to accomplish the simple act of demolishing an illegal building, an action which all his predecessors had preferred to ignore. MGP’s appeal to the then mayor too fell on deaf years
It was during K. Shivaram‘s tenure as MCC Commissioner that this illegal structure was sanctioned within the Park. The rumour was that he wanted to have a guest house close to his official quarters. Later when MGP filed the court case, MCC changed the purpose and said it was meant to be an office to serve the residents. This was a blatant lie since the building with bedrooms and toilets looked more like a house.
Later, when the court ordered the demolition, MCC converted the building into a toilet which actually amounted to contempt of court. Public money was again squandered. Sadly, some residents who frequent the park were angry with MGP for agitating against the toilet facilities. It is true that residents do need toilet facilities. But when the law does not permit, how can one go against it? We need to change the law, or provide toilets outside the park.
There are several obvious lessons one can learn from this simple episode.
First, a City Corporation must itself learn to obey and respect the laws and byelaws, and must be seen by the public it serves as obeying and respecting the laws and byelaws.
Second, a committed and concerned officer can indeed serve the community and administer the rule of law if he or she wants to and is inclined in that direction.
Third, under a committed and concerned officer, even otherwise recalcitrant and nonchalant staff can be motivated to do the right thing for a community and City.
One of the real and unsung heroes of MGP’s success is Dr Jayaram. But for his initiative, MGP might not have taken interest in this project. This episode has also shown how literate people living in the apartments in front of the park could care less as to what will happen to their park. It’s an indication of the failure of MGP to attract them, but Manivannan’s action should be a wake-up call to them.
Photographs: courtesy Star of Mysore (top, right), and Bhamy V. Shenoy