When the municipal council went back on its word and refused to turn part of the Mananchira Maidan into a park

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents.)

Count in Mananchira Maidan when the talk is about Kozhikode’s landmarks. It has been the city centre for centuries and over the years many have wrangled over it. In colonial Calicut, residents fought over their right to play here. Mananchira Maidan features frequently in the early 20 century files. Often the bone of contention between the municipal council and the Collector, both wrestled to have control over it. Files from 1926-27 show the council and the collector engaged in an exchange over bits and pieces of the maidan.

The maidan then was prominently two slices of land; the larger one measuring 2.27 acres spread out on the southern side, while the smaller, triangular part took up the northern side. The municipal council wants the smaller tract to be a public gymnasium, but the collector refuses. Instead, he advises them to turn it into a park. The file shows us how the council takes a dramatic u-turn on their decision after agreeing to make this maidan a recreation area. As the council back tracks, a welcome opportunity to turn a slushy land into a recreation spot is lost.

From the proceedings of the council meeting held on November 13, 1926, we gather that the council had put forward the idea of turning a part of the maidan into a gymnasium. “The Collector states that he is not prepared to recommend to Government the alienation of the northern portion of the Mananchira Maidan to the municipal council for a public gymnasium,” it states. But a park is welcome.

The resolution forwarded to the Collector by C.V. Narayana Menon, chairman, municipal council, states that the council has agreed to all the conditions put forward by the Collector. “Passed at its meeting held on 13.11.1926 agreeing to the alienation in its favour of the land in question subject to all the conditions proposed in your letter dated 8.3.1926,” it states. Along with the suggestion that the land be a park managed by the council, the Collector also strings to it a set of conditions the council has to abide by.

On getting the nod from the council, the Collector goes ahead to work out the nitty-gritties related to land alienation. H.R. Pate, the Collector, writes to the Commissioner of Land Revenue and Settlement, Madras, seeking his sanction for the project. He gives a detailed account of the Mananchira Maidan. “The open space in front of the Huzur Office in Calicut, known as the Mananchira Maidan is registered as government paramboke maidan, tharisu stalam and measuring 3.8 acres the maidan consists of two parts,” he writes. The main southern portion is “enclosed by a low stone wall” almost similar to what it is today. This was the area for games, much like it is now. Big plans were reserved for the smaller portion measuring 0.81 acres. “It is an untidy and insanitary spot, a standing ground for the cattle in the dry weather and a wallowing ground in the wet. It is in short a public nuisance and is particularly offensive to the hospital just across the road,” he writes.

In his letter, he also recounts the long-running tussle with the municipal council over the maidan. “In 1924, the Calicut municipal council requested that the whole maidan might be vested in it on the understanding that a compound wall round the main portion of the maidan would be constructed and maintained at its cost. The Board did not approve of the proposal to make over the maidan to the council,” he writes.

The main part of the maidan thus remained in the Collector’s control; was subsequently walled in and turned into the “chief playground of Calicut.” On the land in question, he adds, “The triangular piece now in question would be no use as an addition to the main ground and by itself it is of no use for games such as hockey or cricket.”

Pate also explains why he refused the council’s proposal to make a gymnasium there. “I informed the municipal council that I could not agree to any proposal that involved putting up buildings permanent or temporary.” While recommending a park there, Pate also introduces a set of conditions to be followed by the council. It includes disallowing any buildings or tents on it; the land can function only as a park; no mining should be done on it and many others. He also wants a compound wall to be built around the site. He mentions that while the council initially “declined my proposal but has finally accepted it without qualifications.”

Following the Collector’s letter, the Board sanctions the project with conditions similar to what the Collector had put forward. When the northern part of the maidan was geared up to be a park, the council dilly-dallies. This time though to the absolute astonishment of the Collector. While the Board sanctioned the project in October, 1926, the council takes its own sweet time to go back on its word. Following a meeting in February 1928, the council says, “Is not prepared to take the ground on the conditions mentioned in the Board’s proceedings.” They go a step further and claim the maidan “as also the enclosed portion to the South as its own.”

Following this surprise move, Pate writes to the Board to withdraw the sanction which it does so promptly. The Collector is not amused and it shows in his letter to the Board. “The Board will observe that the council which after prolonged negotiations accepted the terms of alienation almost identical with those approved by the Board seven months later has utilised the interval to change its mind completely.” Consequently, the northern part of the maidan continued to be the unwieldy sight it was.

(Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode)

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