With the Republic Day Flower Show coming up at Lalbagh, it’s time we reviewed the use of the Glass House, meant to be a conservatory and not an exhibition gallery

Lalbagh, the famed botanical garden in the heart of Bangalore, quietly reached a milestone in 2012. It completed a century of holding two flower shows each year since 1912 without any interruption. Bangalore is the only city in India that is credited with — and is capable of hosting — two flower shows in a year, in summer as well as winter, thanks to its salubrious climate. However, since 1947, the summer flower show came to be aligned with Independence Day (August 15). And as the nation became a republic in 1950, the winter flower show was synchronised with Republic Day (January 26).

The first flower show was organised in 1840 by William New, the then supervisor of Lalbagh, in his capacity as Secretary, Agri Horticultural Society. The second show was held in 1867. Under the stewardship of legendary Gustav Hermann Krumbeigal, curator (and later superintendent in his 1908-1944 tenure), the Mysore Horticulture Society began to organise two flower shows annually.

Over the years, the flowers shows have become mega events, registering lakhs of visitors. Footfalls number between two and four lakh in each of the two shows with amenities bursting at the seams and arrangements threatening to go haywire during peak hours. The Lalbagh lake is spread over 30 acres in the 240-acre garden. The rockery — a geological monument — claims 10 acres while lawns have another 140 acres under them. The cynosure of all eyes during the flower shows is the Glass House where major artworks and flower arrangements are organised. Often, more people rush into the narrow space than it can take. Authorities have often feared stampede at the venue even though about 150 police personnel are on special duty during the flower shows.

S. Narayana Swamy, a retired senior assistant director of horticulture, Lalbagh, suggests shifting the main venue of the flower show away from the Glass House. “There would be often more visitors than flowers,” he comments pithily. He points out that the Glass House was conceived and built in the 1890s as a plant conservatory on the lines of Palm House in Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, London. It simply cannot be pressed into the role of an exhibition gallery. He says flower shows were earlier held in the open space around Bandstand before they were shifted to the Glass House in the early part of the last century. However, going by the current turnout, there must be a rethink and a new venue for the main event should be thought of.

While the flower shows may serve as a visual feast for visitors, they are actually meant to showcase the horticultural wealth and development of the State annually. Thus they have a variety of stakeholders. Principally, the Mysore Horticultural Society, with a membership of over 4,000, issues passes to all its members. Of them, nearly half turn up at the shows annually. Secondly, Lalbagh being the seat of the State’s Directorate of Horticulture, the flower shows attract nearly 60 stalls representing diverse interests.

According to Gunvanth J., Deputy Director of Horticulture (an in-charge of the Garden), the occasion is used to impart awareness by bodies such as Coconut Development Board, HOPCOMS, Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, Hessarghatta, bodies training people and housewives in ikebana, orchids, bonsai, vegetable carving, vertical and terrace gardening, pot-growing vegetables, Watershed Development Board, Horticulture University at Bagalkot, and University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. Besides these, food and fruit stalls are allowed with several vendors and hawkers too sneaking into the garden to profit from the swelling clientele.

Outsourced

Over the years, the Lalbagh authorities have outsourced several of their functions to private agencies. The Department has merely 76 gardeners, a superintendent, four clerical staff and 11 technical staff on its payroll. Tasks such as cleaning, security, operating computerised sprinklers and providing drinking water have been outsourced to agencies selected on the basis of tenders. Nearly 60 personnel look after the security in two shifts. Despite this a sandalwood tree was cut down and parcelled out of the Garden last month. This is where doubts are expressed over the wisdom of allowing such a mass of visitors into the heart of a repository of botanical heritage of the State as well as the region.

Although the authorities have banned polythene bags inside Lalbagh, it is found littered with mounds of pouches of supari, and wrappers of chocolate and chewing gum discarded by the visitors in the aftermath of the flower shows.

While large pieces of garbage are easy to pick, the minuscule wrappers get lodged at the base of bushes and fence hedges of the flowerbeds and are difficult to pick. In addition to this, the visitors kick up a lot of dust into the sylvan space which settles down on trees and bushes. The two flower shows together are spread over 18 days each year.

It is time the Glass House is spared of the biannual event and an alternative venue is found either within the Garden or outside.