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Green guardian

Bimal Desai is fighting 14 cases to save whatever remains of the Cubbon Park. Battle-scarred as he is, he has vowed never to call it quits.

Bimal Desai: Just a concerned citizen — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

WE, THE concerned citizens of "a slow, polluted, and corrupt city", absolve ourselves of any responsibility by regularly cursing "the system". Who, anyway, has the time and energy to take it on? But whether or not he has the time, there is one man who has spent a lot of energy on this very mission. When Bimal Desai, a businessman, saw his family members suffering from asthma, he asked his doctor what the cause was. He was told that Bangalore's shrinking lung space was leading to breathing disorders of various kinds. That's when he decided that "someone has to do something".

Bimal Desai started keeping a watch over the last of Bangalore's green spaces. "Cubbon Park, Lalbagh, and Palace Grounds are the only three green patches left in Bangalore, according to ISRO's satellite pictures," he says. And that's not great news for what was once called Garden City, where lakes have become bus-stands and buildings, where roadside trees are being murdered daily, and where spaces earmarked for parks become dumping ground for debris and garbage.

When the High Court proposed an extension into Cubbon Park around 1995, Bimal Desai filed his first case to save the 190-acre park, already diminished from a sprawling 300-acre expanse.

Bimal lost the case, but that didn't deter him from keeping a close watch on all the damage done to the park while the extension was effected. Debris was dumped by contractors into water bodies in and around the park. One was a pond outside the Venkatappa Art Gallery. A pencil flies over paper as he shows how the underground connection between three water bodies that carried rainwater was spoilt by debris dumping. The Venkatappa Art Gallery wanted to convert the closed pond into an open art gallery. Desai filed a case against it. With support from artists, who found the pond a great inspiration, he won the case. The pond was cleaned up.

In 1997, the rock garden near the Legislators' Home (LH) had also been turned into a dumping ground. He lost the case that he filed. That area has now been converted into canteens for the LH. His public interest litigation (PIL) against encroachment by the Press Club into Cubbon Park is still pending before the courts. He filed a case against over 20 offices in and around Cubbon Park for dumping their waste into it. That case is still pending. He tried to fight the mushrooming of hawker establishments (not the roaming hawkers with baskets on their heads) in the park. While some have been removed, many, like the mobile canteens, the stationed cycle-vendors, sugarcane juicewallahs, and beedi shops, remain. He is being urged to strike a compromise in that case.

Bimal asked for a traffic ban in the park as "that's the only way we can save it". There was a reprieve in the form of a traffic restriction and gates were erected in some parts, even if it was not completely walled in like he had asked.

It was when the Government proposed a 30-acre denotification of the park that Bimal Desai's case inspired the public to protest. NGOs, schools, environmentalists, celebrities, businessmen, actors, educationists, journalists, and many more came in thousands to protest at the Queen's Statue. "First a women's group asked me what my case was about and how they could help. They got me 20,000 signatures against the denotification and set the ball rolling," recalls Desai. "Everyday, we had a different school at the statue to protest; people came to know lots through the media and NGOs supported me."

The uproar subsided when the denotification was stayed, but the construction of LH was allowed to continue. Quite predictably, the public had forgotten the denotification issue when Bimal Desai later lost the case in High Court. He has now taken the fight to the Supreme Court. While his lawyer goes for the hearings to Delhi, Bimal collects evidence, clicks photos, and stays informed about the so-called "progressive action plans" or "development projects".

"Do you know that 52,000 vehicles pass through Cubbon Park daily after Nrupathunga Road was made one-way?" he asks. The Horticulture Department has written and asked that it be made a two-way again before the park dies, he says. In fact, the Horticulture Department may soon be asked to shift to the children's library in the park, as there are some whispers about a swimming pool coming up in the park premises, he says, angrily. When a government club becomes a tennis club, and it is allowed to open a garden restaurant and pile filth in the park, additions like a swimming pool are only to be expected, he says. But not if he can help it.

Referring to the Tennis Club, he fumes: "When a member throws a party in the club, the number of parked cars and the amount of garbage collected is not funny." The Parks Act states clearly that the Tennis Club shall be used "for tennis and no other purposes". Bimal Desai is not an environmentalist or chief of a green NGO. Just an active citizen. Of the 14 cases (including subsidiary ones) that he has fought to save Cubbon Park, some have been won, some lost. But the battle is on.


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