Conservationists decry loss of open spaces, heritage monuments

The Greater Cochin Development Authority’s (GCDA) ongoing project to set up a multimedia laser show centre at Rajendra Maidan under its possession has met with stiff resistance from conservationists and the CPI(M).

The CPI(M) has come out against the proposed centre citing commercialisation of heritage monuments in the city.

Many grounds and open spaces such as Rajendra Maidan, which had played host to historical events, had vanished over time, said journalist Ravi Kuttikkad, who has been in the forefront of the campaign for the conservation of the Maidan.

Mr. Kuttikkad said the ground was originally known as Huzoor jetty before being named after A.B. Salem, a Jewish member of the Kochi Legislative Council, who delivered speeches at the Maidan on issues faced by his community. “Former president of Indian National Congress Acharya Kripalani eventually named it Rajendra Maidan after Rajendra Prasad who was set to become the first President of the country. Mr. Kripalani made the announcement during the course of a speech at the Maidan on March 6, 1947, based on a message from the Kochi Maharaja delivered to him,” he said. The maidan has hosted eminent personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and E.M.S. Namboodiripad, besides witnessing pitched battles between pro-Independent forces and authorities. Setting up closed structures on the Maidan would be a blot on its history and would deprive the city of a vital open space, Mr. Kuttikkad said.

The managing committee meeting of the Ernakulam Public Library has urged the GCDA to desist from the move and to take immediate steps for the conservation of the Maidan that had witnessed historical protests such as the Kayal protest (1913), protests against Simon Commission (1928) and several student protests.

The GCDA proposes to commission the project at an investment of Rs. 3 crore by this April.

“We are not handing over the place to private parties but are doing it on our own. The project will not come up at the cost of the Maidan’s historic relevance, open nature or accessibility. There will be no closed structure except for a fountain 40-foot-wide and long,” GCDA chairman N. Venugopal said.

Stating that laser show would not be held on days when the ground hosted other programmes, Mr. Venugopal said the GCDA was willing to hold an open discussion with the public space conservation campaign led by the Ernakulam Public Library.

It took six months to get administrative sanction from the government and the foundation stone was laid four months ago, he said, adding objections were being raised when the project was at an advanced stage. Environment activist C.R. Neelakantan said beautification of open spaces eventually led to their loss as in the case of Durbar Hall Ground.

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