In the 1980s, octogenarian Mrs. Subbalaxmi Jayraj remembers taking a bus from Rajajinagar to Frazer Town to see her grandchild enrolled in a boarding-school. She and her husband would invariably arrive early and spend a leisurely afternoon at a nearby park before the school opened for visitors.
More than 20 years later, it is impossible for people to enter a neighbourhood park on a weekday afternoon as a majority of them remain closed from mid-morning until evening. “Parks are meant to be used, but Bengaluru is perhaps one of the only cities, which closes them for a major portion of the day,” says Urban Expert V Ravichandar, adding that even a decade ago, there were green spaces where one could sit in leisure. “In fact, this city with its limited community spaces needs its parks to be well-maintained and open to the public.”
According to the data available from the BBMP Restructuring Committee, there are 2,377 parks in the city covering an area of 13.4 sq. km. Almost all neighbourhood parks in the city come under the purview of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, though there are a few that are owned and maintained by building complexes.
Though there is no rule mandating that parks be closed to the public, officials site security and maintenance as the reasons for doing so. “We have had issues in the past with gambling, couples being targeted by miscreants and alcohol being consumed in the afternoons. This is the reason why parks began closing in the first place and then the practice continued,” said Umesh Shetty, Govindarajanagar councillor and former member of the Horticulture Standing Committee.
But with shrinking open spaces, resident associations are hoping that parks open for the better part of the day. “The lack of open space can have serious repercussions on children and even adults. With no place to go out and play, children get addicted to unhealthy video games while adults congregate at malls, giving rise to the mall culture ,which seems to be the city’s main community space these days,” remarked D.S. Rajashekar, President, Citizens Action Forum.
Parks maintained by RWAs
Several parks in the city have been outsourced for maintenance purposes to private companies and sometimes to residents’ associations. Many residents’ associations have volunteered to maintain the parks themselves. Even though these parks too remain closed for the afternoon- they are mostly opened all day during weekends.
“We open them fully on weekends but were forced to close in the afternoons during weekdays because there were not enough people coming in and the maintenance-work is reduced considerably,” said Nitin Sheshadri, president of Koramangala Residents’ Welfare Association.
In a rapidly growing city with shrinking demarcations between residential and commercial spaces, there are more reasons to keep these parks open, and, sometimes closed. “If the park is in a quiet neighborhood which is used only be nearby residents, then to keep the park open or not depends on their particular use patterns and specific issues, however, parks located in commercial or densely populated areas are a different matter,” says Renuka Prasad of the Shanthi Nagar Residents’ Association, adding that the Richmond Park under their jurisdiction had also had to deal with nuisances and security concerns which forced them to shut in the afternoons.
On the issue, BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad: “The maintenance of the parks are usually outsourced based on tenders and some of them are maintained by the BBMP. There are no rules on timings but the common reason our parks close in the afternoons is to give rest to the park staff, as well as carry out gardening activities undisturbed.”
* Even Major parks like Sankey Tank Park are open for a few hours in the morning and close by 10 a.m. or almost immediately after the morning walkers leave. They then open in the evening for a few hours
* Many parks in HRBR Layout, Peenya, Jaymahal, Banaswadi and Jaymahal shut from constant disuse
* Although earlier budgets had very little reserved for parks, the 2016 BBMP state budget has set aside Rs. 40 crore for maintenance and Rs. 20 crore for the development of new parks