It is one war that soldiers would like to forget, one that has generated so much heat and dust and ruffled so many feathers that it ended up being bitterly fought in a court of law.
In fact, very few projects in Bangalore, apart from Namma Metro and road widening, have generated so much debate as the proposed National War Memorial that is coming up at the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain Park in Vasanthnagar.
The park, the only one of its kind in Vasanthnagar, is spread over 17 acres. Residents of Vasanthangar and adjacent areas use the park for their morning walk and exercises. The battle over the park began after the State Government announced in 2008 that a national memorial to soldiers who laid down their lives would come up on 6.22 acres of the park area. The cost of the entire project was pegged at Rs. 12 crore. Though the then Governor Rameshwar Thakur laid the stone in February 2009, the battle over the memorial began only towards the end of 2009 when construction work commenced.
The park has 182 trees and initial projections by the Government said 29 trees would have to be cut to make way for the memorial. Apart from the memorial — a monolith rock — the project would comprise a museum dedicated to three wings of the Defence services and an underground structure called the Motivation Hall.
Appalled by what they felt was an uncalled for destruction of precious green cover, environmentalists in the city took to the streets demanding the project be shifted to some other site. The greens pointed out that Metro, road widening and other development projects had so far led to the felling of at least 900 trees in and around Bangalore Central district: any more felling of trees would lead to irreversible ecological damage.
When the State Government did not heed their protests and instead handed over the monitoring of the project to Agenda for Development of Bangalore (Abide), the Krishna Apartment Owners Welfare Association filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition before the Karnataka High Court. The association demanded that the memorial be shifted elsewhere and the State stop the wanton destruction of the green cover.
The association argued that it was mandatory under Section 14A of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961, to take permission for any change of land use or development. No such permission had been granted nor had the planning authority (in this case the Bangalore Development Authority) published, invited and debated on objections by stakeholders, to the project. Besides, Karnataka Parks, Play-fields and Open Spaces (Preservation and Regulation) Act, 1985, states that no building should be constructed inside a park, unless deemed necessary for “the improvement or more beneficial utilisation of the park”.
With the greens on one side, and the Government, soldiers and Abide on the other, the High Court became the arena of battle. It was only during the court hearings that many facets of the project came to light. Advocate-General Ashok Harnahalli trashed the figures trotted out by environmentalists on the number of trees that would be cut. He said less than a dozen trees would be cut, most of them eucalyptus.
The AG further submitted that the memorial will be the first to be built in the country by a Government in honour of the 1,843 persons from Karnataka who had laid down their lives in battle.
A Division Bench of the High Court comprising Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice Mohan Shantangouder on June 4, 2010 dismissed the petition, saying that the petitioners were not entitled for any of the reliefs they had sought for. It said the proposed memorial was a pride for Kannadigas, and would result in inspiring many youngsters to join the Defence services. It also said that the memorial would not affect the park in any manner as it is slated to come up in an area devoid of any historical importance.
With this legal clearance, the authorities soon began civil work at the park and hope to complete it by the year-end.
The association on its part, proposes to move the Supreme Court against the High Court verdict.