Is Bangalore's biggest lung space, the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, on the verge of losing its character? From a biodiversity-rich walker's paradise, is it in danger of becoming a kitschy “entertainment” space?
The park has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
If the State Government has its way, this historic lung space will see boating, a musical fountain, artificial waterfalls and other “amusement” activities on the ground that it will make it more “attractive”.
The gardens, already under stress on holidays and weekends when tens of thousands throng the 240-acre park, could draw more tourists seeking more than just green shade.
Park stakeholders, who include birdwatchers, botanists and walkers, say these proposals were announced without consulting them, and show scant regard for the carrying capacity of the gardens.
This hardly augurs well for a botanical garden that requires more tree species than musical fountains.
For most south Bangaloreans, Lalbagh is not just a botanical garden, but a part of their cultural history.
Nearly 15,000 to 18,000 people, including 7,000 to 8,000 walkers, use the garden daily.
The numbers may cross 25,000 on holidays or weekends, 50,000 on special occasions, and over a lakh during the biannual flower shows.
Acknowledging that carrying capacity of the garden had not figured in the proposed plans, a Horticulture Department official conceded that its sanctity may be compromised with the influx of more visitors. “But, being a public space, how can people be prevented from entering it?” he asked.
Lalbagh Walkers Association president P. Sadashiv told The Hindu that the association was opposed to the plan to concretise parts of the park that would affect its botanical nature.
A memorandum has been submitted to Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa.
“There are many pressing issues that have to be addressed. The lake has been contaminated by sewage and toilet facilities have to be improved,” he added.
In the recent times, so-called development has negatively impacted the park.
A Eucalyptus citrodora, an Australian tree specie, died when a pigeon platform was constructed around it.
A large ficus near the director's office was removed in the late 1980s for no reason, a birdwatcher pointed out. Regulars say not many tree species have been added to the garden in the recent years with the exception of palms.
However, the horticulture official said that the park's character would not be affected by the proposed constructions.
“The department has no intention of converting the garden to an amusement park,” he said and added that feedback from users would be considered before any decision was taken.
The latest proposal, a senior Horticulture Department official said, includes the extension of the green cover in the garden.
“An evergreen forests or tree museum will be developed on two acres near the Siddapura Gate. About 200 species of evergreen trees will be planted; the department is procuring them,” he said.
According to another official, the number of tree species has increased from 1,854 in 2006 to 2,175 in 2010, and 175 more species, apart from the evergreen trees, will be added once the monsoon commences.
“Empty spaces have been [reserved] to introduce new species,” he said.