Contractors are vandalising public parks in the name of beautification

joggers park

Saw Aaditya Thackeray, the young, embattled Shiv Sena leader at a public event last week. He was cheerful, showed no sign of stress. Seems to have taken the recent political setback in his stride. Things are clearly looking up for Shiv Sena and the Congress.

He inaugurated a play area for physically and mentally challenged children in Joggers Park in Bandra in Mumbai. A number of such boys and girls from municipal schools in the Bandra Santa Cruz area were present. I must say I was moved by the scene, I talked with a couple of kids and their parents, the teachers were looking after them well.

Was not aware the municipal corporation runs free classes for these children, I got to know of at least three such schools, in Khar Danda, Lions Park, Juhu area, and Kherwadi in Bandra east.

The host was Rahul Kanal, chief of the youth wing of the Shiv Sena in the suburb who has taken the initiative in creating the facility in the municipal park.

One could have thought the facility was a bit of a gimmick but looking at the number of affected children, it seems really necessary.

The real trouble lies here and it showed the absolute ignorance and bankruptcy of the municipal authorities and politicians at least on some issues when it comes to the environment. Though flooding is assuming alarming proportion in cities, the authorities seem to have learnt nothing and they are mindlessly concretising every possible surface in the name of beautification. That is what they have done here too, on a long stretch of the park, concretised and then covered with artificial turf. This means there will be no water absorption. This is happening all over and increasing the flood menace.

The Joggers Park was recently renovated at at a cost of several crores but some facilities have already crumbled., This is what happens with privatisation. The old Malis, gardeners, did a far better job. Most old parks were so much better with nice public sitting spaces under a roof. Even this little roof, a protection against rain and Sun is now missing in the renovated parks. These parks need the services of good nature loving landscape designers who understand ecology. But somehow some architects are getting these contracts and doing great harm, yet in their ignorance they are so self congratulatory.

The badly designed lighting in Joggers is a torture in the evening in some areas. And of course there is heavy concretisation, against all environmental norms.

Some of the media writing on such issues reads like press releases.. Fraudulent work is touted as innovative. All in the name of beautification. Formerly, reporters at least needed to rewrite the press release in the days prior to the internet. Now, the press releases are written by professionals who know the requirements of the media and so the press release straight away appears in the newspaper with a reporter’s byline . It is a win win situation for racketeers in the media and commercial interests. So the reader is completely misled, never gets the real picture.

More disastrous than the wasteful and expensive alleged beautification of the landmark Joggers Park is the renovation of the municipal Almeida Park also in Bandra.It is an old park named after Prof J.F. Almeida, botanist and former teacher in St Xavier’s college who had donated land for the park. He loved plants and trees so much that he gave botanical names all his four daughters . He must be turning in his grave seeing the utter devastation, the uprooting of all the greenery of the park, the heavy concretisation.

The `renovated’ park was closed for three years, causing so much inconvenience to citizens. It was thrown open to the public at a function on October 24 attended by a number of veterans including former billiards national champion Michael Fereira, former national bicycling champion in 1958 Nergish Vachha Bhapoo, Anandini Thakoor, civic activist , now 92, and Mr Almeida’s daughter, Celsia Bocarro. Interestingly, the daughter lives in the vicinity in an ancestral bungalow of 1963 named Corona, the name attractted some attention during the pandemic. Most of the attendees were invitees and friends of people involved in the project and they were in no mood for criticism or even noticing the details.

However, the devastation of the park in the name of beautification shocked visitors this morning. Mr V Vaidyanathan, a retired finance director of Hindustan Petroleum, was particularly distressed because he had been visiting it for the last three decades and knew how green and pleasant it was, blooming with flowers and plants, thick foliage, a nice covered space under which one could sit, and there were so many butterflies. Everything now is so bad and wrong, the benches are ergonomically uncomfortable, the lighting is too bright and too close to those sitting in benches, there is too much of monotony of the same species planted along the periphery and elsewhere. No biodiversity, all this would have really saddened Prof Almeida who was a former chairperson of the then Bandra municipality who read out the charter of independence from the municipal building on Waterfield road in Bandra in 1947.

He was also founder of cooperative societies like St Sebstian society.

The renovation is a great disservice to the memory of the botanist who donated so much land for public causes. The whole idea behind the so called beautification in different places in Mumbai is to actually to help the contractors and cement concrete lobby. Increasing greenery is of little benefit to racketeers while concretisation and steel and chemicals help the contractors. A sad phenomenon and it is daily worsening.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport


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