Saturday, 16 March 2013

An assault on the City's history

If a person came to visit MG Road after several decades, he would be surprised at the change the iconic road has undergone. Known as South Parade in pre-independence era, it was renamed as Mahatma Gandhi Road on February 26, 1948 by the then Municipality of Bangalore.
When a first-time visitor saw MG road the first time, what attracted him most was the boulevard running all along the footpath opposite  the road from Anil Kumble Circle to Brigade Road-MG Road Circle or more popularly known as Cauvery Circle.
The boulevard became the first casualty when the Bangalore Metro decided to operate a line on the road. It also decided that the road ought to have two stations-one near Trinity Circle and another near the erstwhile Plaza cinema.
Several buildings fell to demolition and the boulevard too vanished and today there is no trace of it though the Metro has promised a better looking and more aesthetic boulevard. Well, what is the point in pulling down a historic structure and then replacing it with a new one.
Heritage means not only buildings but also parks, fountains, temples, mosques, churches and every conceivable building of antiquity or that which has a history of its own. We have already lost several old buildings to the footfalls of  urban growth and how many more of them should be lost before Bangalore rises as one to protect them.
A part of  Lalbagh has already been swallowed by metro for building a station. There is no doubt about development. Yes, a country needs development and it dies need an efficient transport system. But at what cost. And who will pay for ruining our heritage.
As already mentioned, a part of Lalbagh on RV Road made way for a metro station. It is only a small piece and it is not going to make any difference to the huge park, say some while others say only Nilgiri trees were cut and that they were not ecologically important.
These are specious arguments and if today you have allowed a part of Lalbagh to go, tomorrow somebody else will want another piece for another development. Where is the guarantee that Lalbagh will not shrink again.
The same is the case with Cubbon Park. Here too the Metro has sought a little land to construct a ventalitor or air vent for the station. Did it have to be at Cubbon Park only. Could it not have come up somewhere else. Of course, the engineers are going to say the alignment can’t be changed. Why, I ask. What is so holy that the alignment stays despite protests by environmentalists, heritage lovers and Bangaloreans.
The Government and the Metro shifted several other statues but not the statue of Dr. Ambedkar. Metro says the delay in shifting the statue will cost us dear but the Government does not buy the argument. Who is right and what is the cost of  the project with the statue still in the same position. Is the cost going to escalate or will the underground section on the Vidhana Soudha segment take more time.
These are answers that people have been demanding but they have been either rebuffed or not given sufficiently convincing answers.
Coming back to MG Road, we see the beauty of the once beautiful road gone. The mammoth concrete piers of the Metro and the platform have totally transformed the view.
So also the Lakshman Rau boulevard which runs from South End circle to the Canara Bank Circle. The entire stretch of road was totally overshadowded by branches of trees that formed a canopy, Believe me, not a ray of sunlight fell on the road below. It was so cool and so beautiful. In fact, I know of some many people who came to the ride just to take in its shade and cool.
Today, the green canopy is gone and in its place we see the metro alignment. Many of the parks on either side of this road are down and out. Why? All for the sake of the metro.  Why was the alignment not shifted to say South End road and Diagonal road and to Shopping Complex in Jayanagar. Would it not have made more sense to have a metro station in 4th Block Jayanagar instead of felling trees near Nanda talkies. Moreover, it would have attracted more traffic.
It is not only the Metro that has eaten up a history. Our own City fathers have to share much of the blame for joining hands with the BDA and other agencies in breaching tanks and lakes and allowing residential layouts to come up.
The BDA is so focused on providing sites that it even encroached upon the Turhalli forests. It backed off only after the Forest Department, which owns the land, filed an FIR. Besides, a high-level official investigation had concluded that the BDA had encroached on 35 acres of 587 acre deciduous minor forest to form a residential layout at Banashankari 6th Stage.
Another project that has run into controversy is the idea of the Horticulture Department to construct a full-fledged parking lot on an open space within the Lalbagh near the Siddapura Gate. The matter is in court and environmentalists, morning walkers and Bangalorens are readying themselves for a battle over the issue. Last heard, the matter was before the High Court of Karnataka.  
The BWSSB too has had a part in not preserving Bangalore’s history. The siphon and water works of  Hesarghatta are rusting and the brick laden pipe from the reservoir to Bangalore to carry water is slowly crumbling. Why can’t BWSSB, which is in charge of the lake, take steps to preserve and protect the equipment and make it a tourist attraction.
The National Highways Authority of India too got into the act and demolished a portion of the Chikjala fort. The fort was already in ruins and the Government and the ASI could have protected the monument instead of allowing the NHAI to bulldoze it for widening the road.
But the first assault on our City’s heritage was by then Municipal Corporation of Bangalore. It decided to officially dismantle the Cenotaph in front of the Corporation Office. The Cenotaph had contained the names of British officers who had lost their lives in the war with Tipu.
The Corporation could have preserved the Cenotaph while at the same time constructing a more beautiful monument to Tipu and Indian soldiers. It did not do that and instead it claimed that the Cenotaph was a disgrace to Indians and had it officially vandalised.
The then City fathers made a major gaffe when they decided to breach several tanks and lakes in the name of mosquito control. The result: Lakes are still being encroached in the name of development and the existing water and drainage network has collapsed, leading to frequent flooding of roads and low-lying areas.
Some of the historic lakes such as Kempambudhi Lake, built by Kempe Gowda, are fighting for survival. Almost a hundred lakes in and around Bangalore have disappeared and today the City is in the throes of a severe water crisis.
Many parks, playgrounds and open spaces which witnessed some historic movements have al but disappeared. The National College Circle in Basavanagudi, which once was the hotbed of Quit India movement, is now an eyesore and the ugly flyover by the BBMP has literally cast a shadow over the circle.
The sandalwood trees in Jnanabharati are being systematically denuded. None seem to care. The Vrushabhavati is a sewage river and neither the Government nor the civic authorities seem to care.
The many buildings associated with Mahatma Gandhi are yet to be properly enumerated and people made aware. The place in Bangalore where Mahatma Gandhi held his prayer meetings is a swimming pool in a five star hotel.
The vast estate of the Roerichs in Tataguni is falling prey to neglect and disuse. Why not declare the estate as a national artist memorial and house the paintings of the Roerichs in their mansion.
The house where eminent Kannada writer DVG lived on DVG Road in Basavanagudi is now a commercial complex. The hotel room where TP Kailasam stayed near Central Police station has no plaque or name plate to announce this fact.
The rocket yards and rocket factories that Tipu set up in Taramangalpet near City Market has vanished without a trace. There is no plaque to remind people that this was the first ever rocket yard in the world.
Bangalore has many temples consecrated by the Madhwa seer, Vyasaraja, to Hanuman. None of them has received Government attention and the one that has been in the news-Gali Anjaneya on Mysore Road-is struggling to contain waste water from overflowing into the temple.
The fort at City Market is virtually unapproachable thanks to the maddening traffic and the high levels of pollution. Yet, there has not been any serious effort to study what effect high levels of pollution will have on the fort walls.
The petes or old localities of Bangalore still have their links with history. The many temples in the Pete such as the Dharmaraya Temple, the Garadi Mane in Ranasinghpet can be put on the tourist map and the monuments protected.       
There are many such historic and religious spots in Bangalore which need immediate care and attention. While there is absolute need for development, it cannot be at the cost of our heritage and culture. The costs of realigning a project to save out heritage is well worth it. Are the authorities listening?                                             

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