Monday, March 5, 2018

Empress Garden; Battle Ground For War Between Development & Nature!

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”… Edward R. Murrow.

Murrow was an American broadcast journalist. He was generally referred to as Ed Murrow. He gained prominence with a series of radio broadcasts for the news division of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) during World War II, which were followed by millions of listeners in the United States. His team of foreign correspondents was known as the Murrow Boys & has some of the greatest names in journalism mostly known for criticizing government for all the wrong doing! His above quote is one of the most famous in describing the way government works, all around the world politics & I don’t know about the nation but when it’s our Pune city or State of Maharashtra, with due respect to our Hon CM, Murrow sadly is right!  And there are many reasons for me to believe Murrow, latest in the list is Empress garden issue. Thanks to sensitive city like Pune where few sheep still dare to take wolves head on & indeed the wolves comes with many names, posts, positions & faces in today’s world. First of all for all those who still are ignorant about what Empress garden is (especially migrants to Pune as well west side of Pune who hardly goes there) for them let me tell you if at all whatever reminisce of so called old historic natural charm of Pune is left then Empress garden makes major part of it. Spread over some 40 odd acres, area in digits is not important though, what’s important is the difference this place brings to the city. Consider Shaniwar Wada or Pravati, would it have made any difference has size of Shaniwar wada been less or more by few square feet or height of Paravti would have been less or more by some feet? No, will be the answer as things like heritage & nature are not measured on the scale of some measuring tape but the quality of life it has given to the entire society & over the scale of time! That’s where Empress Garden stood tall among many monuments in the city & best part is no human hands has build this monument but nature itself! 

Well, by now you must have understood what is Empress garden, it’s a huge garden spread on east side of Pune with oldest of the trees as well thousands of plants, creepers which are home for equal numbers of species including birds, insects, reptiles & acts a lung of this fast graying (read dying) city which is buckling under the name of development!
Our Pune city & its rulers (this covers every that govt organization which has role in making this city a better place i.e. PMC to Collector to Urban Development) always make me amaze by the way things happens here out of the blue & keep people busy in fighting over these issues. The very recent issue is govt unrevealed its willingness to build some residences for the senior officers. No harm as even govt employees need homes but problem is the place which has been chosen for doing so is part of Empress Garden & that started a war between systems named Govt & Developers against citizens who think they know the importance of places like Empress Garden!  When its development then as an engineer as well builder by myself I can’t oppose the development but question is at what cost we will be making this so called development? Rather have we really understood the term development in first place? Because if we are considering Fly-overs, Metro (now Hyper Loop too) , IT parks, Malls, Industries, Townships, Ring Roads & many such things are development then we are just fools as all these are just manmade structures! As no development can be complete without nature in it & nature comes in many forms, just the way we consider development for above mentioned structures, rivers, hills, lakes, streams, trees, creepers, birds, butterflies, even insects too, are part of nature & that makes all of them part of our development too! Here is where the tussle comes in between the so called developers & citizens who are sane enough to understand the real meaning of development but are tagged as “Environmentalists”, a term which is used like a curse by the people who under the name of development has only one motif i.e. make more money at any cost!

We need a system named govt which is supposed to be keeping control on this tussle or say war between developers & citizens, as we can’t afford extremists on both sides. We are growing & the growth has its own needs so structures like houses, malls, roads are bound to be there but then more structures means more land is space is equally true. So from where this more land for our structures is going to come from? At the same time because of our unplanned growth the so called development essential for decent life style is divided in pockets leaving some pockets totally without any good infrastructure & some pockets of the city has got every best thing around. Naturally its land in these pockets which gets premium demand & it’s here where the developers as well govt eyes their potential structures, mainly homes as they bring money! Empress Garden is victim only because its right in the vicinity or Race Course as well Pune’s elite area i.e. MG road & Cam & no wonder even the govt servants too fell for this location. Well, by now it’s not still clear that whether there will be houses on the said land of Empress Garden but because of this intention of govt one thing surely has come forwards, rather two things, one is govt doesn’t think or care for nature & second there are sane & aware citizens who fights for city’s betterment! What I wonder is about why our "Mai Baap Govt", when it owns nearly 30% prime lands officially, can plan the so called quarters for the officers  on these available lands but try to do something which will be hailed by all, is for sure? Sometimes I think govt’s such attempt to do something attierely foolish is a deliberate hoax, played to divert the attention of citizens or masses as well of media from major drawbacks the city is having! As look at the scene, entire focus is on Empress garden saving & then one fine morning govt will issue a circular that it’s not intended to build anything on Empress Garden land & citizens will celebrate their victory over the system but in the mean time many other lacunas in city planning will be neglected & forgotten along in the mood of celebration!

As PMC, Collector & PMRDA has hundreds of lands available with them in many prime areas as well in suburbs in the forms of Amenity Spaces & reservations, which have been handed over to these organizations respectively by the developers & are lying vacant for years. So why can’t staff quarters of all govt officers are build on these Amenity Spaces which are already with the govt & are vacant? And then one more thing by making various govt employees homes all across the city & suburbs, let them know the problems common citizens has to face for very basic civic infrastructure like roads, water & public transport! Or else if you take a look on any govt servant’s colony, then you will realize its situated always in such locality where there rarely is any civic problem, making the govt servants (which actually are policy makers or works executioners for the city) cutoff from the harsh realities of the city life. Though barring a few exceptions like police line, all govt colonies are maintained properly as funding is never a problem. Another aspect is why can’t our govt makes a master plan for all their owned lands & then execute it stage wise! Rather many govt lands have become prey to illegal encroachments or have become dumping yards for the garbage is the scene all around the city. For e.g. Police dept alone has huge land right within the city at various locations as well around the city but mostly the potential of all such lands is untapped & while the entire Pune districts police force is some fifty thousand in numbers but the police staff quarters are just five thousand odd, in spite having such huge land bank with police dept! The case is same with most govt depts., so instead using lands like Empress Garden first go & get the own land for building staff quarters, is what govt should do. And then when Empress Garden type land grabbing incidence happens, one will surely doubt the very basic intentions of the govt, is a fact!

And then whenever such nature blessed lands are taken by the govt for any purpose, why just houses, then we all have witnessed what was the outcome. Right near MG road, camp, one big mall has been built by giving way few beautiful bungalows of govt where huge trees used to shed the surrounding, now exists just glass & concrete façade, making money for the few! Same is case with thousands of big old trees which has been cut to make new roads but what happened to the plantation of new trees along these roads & making them survive, no one answers this question. Outcome is we are having roads with millions of vehicles blowing CO2 from their exhausts & zero tree shed or Oxygen emission anymore. And the story of tree cutting for our development can be seen all around Pune as right from Ganeshkhind Road to Sinhagad road to FC road, we have cut down thousands of huge old banyan, neem & piple trees for accommodating our vehicles (we even refuse to pay parking charges) & look at present status of these roads, no words can describe the damage, this we call development? Worst is in this process of cutting trees we have taken away homes of millions of birds & insects as we cut down those trees; have we ever thought where they would have gone! 
We are talking of river front development but what about the already extinct bio diversity around river rather we will be killing whatever little biodiversity exists around! And then who has stopped the govt from making the river pollution free as it’s this very govt only which turns blind eye towards every polluting stuff getting mixed in rivers & why others, it includes mixing of untreated drainage also from PMC’s very own effluent treatment plants!

Recently our Union Minister for Environment is appealing to citizens in an advertising campaign on radio channels for planting more trees, try to save nature by individual effort but his very own govt system seems deaf in listening his voice. As on one side govt spends millions of rupees for advertising on Save Environment campaign but forgets (read neglects) to do the job which it’s been getting paid for. As right from cutting trees to polluting natural water sources to encroaching green zones to pushing the biodiversity around to extinct level, everything which can be stopped  by the govt, but no such efforts are being done by the authorities is a fact. And it’s not just Empress Garden, but take a look at river side green belts or hills (Bio Diversity Parks), neither we are taking clear stand nor we are doing anything to conserve these places making them perfect target for slums which eventually will get regularized after few years! And then on one side PMPML Ex Chief was complaining he doesn’t get space to park his busses, which are back bone of public transport of Pune & is only key to reduce pollutions around us, but we give importance to staff quarters at the cost of tree cover! No wonder it’s this attitude of our govt towards development which is a cause of concern for reduction of tree cover in Pune district when all around the country forest cover has increased!

Today its Empress garden, so what next for govt staff quarters? Parvati Hills, or Shaniwar wada (it too has huge open spaces inside & around); when we will understand that by demolishing heritage places like Empress Garden we can’t change the course of history, let’s not forget this simple truth! It’s high time the wolves in govt should stop underestimating the sheep in form of citizens as when united in millions; even the sheep can outrun pack of wolves.

Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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