Why should they pay Rs 200 to play in their park?

BHARGAVI S. RAO and LEO SALDANHA write from Bangalore: Employing a highly illegal policy, the government of Karnataka intends to restrict entry to Bangalore’s heritage Cubbon Park and Lalbagh only to visitors carrying an electronic ID card.

Needless to state, this electronic ID comes at a steep price of Rs 200 per person and will be regulated based on a highly restrictive application process.

The intent is to prevent common folks, especially the urban poor and the voiceless, from using such public spaces while showcasing Bangalore as an elite friendly and global investment friendly city, with its public spaces out of bounds for local residents.

This is the beginning of the state’s encroachment of people’s right to freely access public spaces and a stage is being set to privatise public commons. All sorts of devious reasons are being flung at the public, including security concerns, morality and misuse of parks by “unnecessary elements”.

The manner in which the policy is formulated encourages the particular exclusion of access rights of the urban poor (especially from minorities), street and working children, elderly people, transgenders , migrant workers, labourers, street vendors, drivers of autorickshaws and taxis, the differently abled, families with children, etc.

The idea of having to carry an ID merely to access these two parks, fundamentally distances them from their unfettered and constitutionally protected right to use public spaces.

This policy also promotes discriminatory access to public spaces as it privileges ‘regular walkers’ and thus negates the very concept of parks as public commons. Simply stated this draconian policy encroaches our very fundamental right to live a healthy life based on dignified and unfettered access to public spaces.

It may even initiate conversion of our public commons, such as parks, playfields and open spaces, into private havens—a practice already in vogue by the State granting large parts of Cubbon Park to the Karnataka Lawn Tennis Association, Century Club and various other private clubs.

To protest such abhorrent acts of exclusion, we have organised a protest on Monday, 30 November 2009, from 4 pm to 6 pm at Queen’s statue, Cubbon Park, M. G. Road.  We urge you to join us in this very critical struggle against encroachment of the fundamental rights to access public spaces.

We have also mounted an online petition to the Horticulture Minister Umesh Katti, who has initiated this policy, demanding that he immediately stop this illegal move.

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Bhargavi S. Rao and Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group, Bangalore, on behalf of Slum Jagatthu, CIEDS, Vimochana, Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (Bangalore district), Sanmathi, Alternative Law Forum, Sangama, Stree Jagruthi Samithi, CIVIC Bangalore, Hasiru Usiru and Open Space.

Sign the online petition here: Keep Lalbagh, Cubbon Park public