The tragedy that is about to befall Belgaum’s Vaccine Depot


love dale belagavi

by Dr. Nitin Khot.

Our country has fought a number of battles over the past few centuries against fierce enemies.

No battle was fiercer than the battle that this country fought against smallpox – the most dreaded of enemies and the scourge of mankind for centuries. It was a disease that had blinded, maimed, marked and killed in millions year after year – against which man had been helpless – till Edward Jenner glimpsed a cure.

The British established three extensive ‘Vaccine Institutes’ in the country – in Kasauli, Bareilly and in Belgaum. Belgaum’s ‘Vaccine Depot’, established in 1904 by Capt. F.H.G. Hutchinson, began contributing freeze dried anti-smallpox vaccine almost from its inception, building up to 47 million doses in 1977, when the pitched battle that India fought against smallpox was finally won. The battle built up to a crescendo after 1975, and the Moscow trained Dr. Prasanna Kumar and his team worked the Vaccine Institute all 24 hours to produce vaccine to full capacity. Belgaum produced more than a third of the vaccine that the country needed to win this crucial battle.

After the gladiators left the battlefield; when the war was won, ‘Vaccine Depot’ fell silent – – – and the vultures moved in. The ever hungry property vultures hoped to devour huge chunks of this 156.10 acres of prime land located close to the heart of Tilakwadi. The stakes were enormous – calculations were made in hundreds of crores.

One ingenious plan envisaged the location of the ‘Suvarna Soudha’ within the precincts of the existing Vaccine Depot with a compound wall measuring 3.396 kilometres all around it within which hotels, hostels, residential quarters, etc could be developed. This plan was stymied only because the access roads through Tilakwadi are too narrow to allow motorcades of VIP’s to pass continuously for a whole month. The residential area that has developed all around this Institute would be completely paralysed for a whole month.

Wisdom finally prevailed and the State Government then proposed to ulitlize the entire land as a Botanical Garden and Heritage Park – passing a Government Resolution AKUKA 84 CGM 2009 dated 6th of July 2009 which specifically reiterated the integrity of the entire Park. Planning of this Park was handed over to BUDA, which in turn consulted IDEC, which came up with an Inception Report which revealed a confused approach to developing this park within the Government Order.

Vaccine Depot
Image Courtesy: Manish Khapare

Despite this, on 3rd May 2011, BUDA proposed that 33 acres of this Vaccine Depot be acquired for construction of residential quarters for the Staff of the Belgaum Institute of Medical Sciences. Another 20 acres was to be “developed” !

The story is told of how St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) and Jaipur were established at about the same time. St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world while Jaipur has been reduced to one vast slum.

Photo taken inside Vaccine Depot
Photo taken inside Vaccine Depot

 

Town Planning” in India is a term that is as little understood by ‘town planners’ as are the Shastras by the Pandas . We pay lip-service to the Shastras day and night, but do the exact opposite of what they recommend as correct courses of thought and action. Likewise, our ‘town planners’ feel every open space should be reduced to a concrete jungle – with a matrix of ‘gallis’ and ‘bols’. Most of the large expanses of parks in our cities were last laid out by the British about a century ago – parks like Lal Bagh or Cubbon Park in Bangalore, Oval and Cross Maidans in Mumbai, or the Ridge in Delhi. They envisaged them as ‘recreational spaces’ for congested cities, where families could go for picnics on holidays.

Image Courtesy: Shreyas Saralaya

 

Today, Belgaum is following the sad path of Jaipur.

The city of Belgaum provides a very gloomy example of over-densification. From the statue of Rani Chennamma in the north to the southern end of Shahapur and from the CBT in the east to Bogarves in the West there are only a handful of really big trees that can purify the air, converting dangerous carbon gases into oxygen. The tiny parks in between have only ornamental trees.

As the number of vehicles in the city increases by the hour, – and each petrol or diesel burning vehicle adds to carbon fumes to the stench of rotting garbage and evaporating urine – the respiratory problems of the people of Belgaum keep increasing.

The city survives because of four lungs – the Fort, the Vaccine Depot, the Camp area and the Race Course. These four are the ‘oxygen factories’ of the city. Three of them survive because they are in Cantonment – and under the control of the Central Government.

The one that is now in the State Government hands – Vaccine Depot – is about to disappear !

Although the State Government, in response to the pressure of various environmental groups passed a Government Order (G.O. No. AKUKA 84 CGM, dated 6th July 2009), ordering that the entire area of 156.10 acres is to be developed as a Botanical Garden and a Heritage Park, the local town planners have decided to violate this Government Order.

Image Courtesy: Shreyas Saralaya

 

Treating this beautiful space which has an amazing amount of flora and fauna richer than Cubbon Park or Lal Bagh as just another building site – which must be packed with buildings, they have decided to start an “Indoor Sports Stadium”, and a “Laser Tech Park” (both having no correlation with either a “Botanical Park” or with the “Heritage of Belgaum”.)

Once the purity of this park is violated by such construction, one can be sure it will become a dumping ground for each and every unimaginative government structure that has to be put up – in the name of development.

The City Corporation had invited India’s premier town planning school – the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi, to prepare a plan for this vast green space and in December 2012, the team from Delhi, visited Belgaum and are working on a beautiful plan.

Image Courtesy: Shreyas Saralaya

 

The tourism potential of Belgaum is also to be developed by ‘Feedback Ventura Infra Pvt. Ltd.’ who are preparing a “Master Plan” of which “eco-tourism” is an important thrust area.

It has been recommended that the park – like Cubbon Park or Lal Bagh be developed as ‘carbon sinks’to offset the dangerous ‘Greenhouse Gases’ (GHGs). It is also suggested that the Heritage Park be developed on the lines of ‘Delhi Haat’, where all through the year, craftsman and artisans from the district showcase their skilled worksmanship (in the 64 old buildings already existing in Vaccine Depot). This will be of immense interest to tourists who visit the Heritage Park to understand Belgaum and Karnataka better. It is unlikely that any tourists will come here to see an “Indoor Sports stadium” – which, predictably, will look like a “haunted structure” in a few months of its inauguration.

Vaccine Depot’, to the people of Belgaum is the sacred ground, the ‘karma bhoomi’, where the battle, against smallpox was fought.

Image Courtesy: Chetan Kothari

 

It is a place where Mahatma Gandhi stayed in a hut (built by one Shri Godse for Rs. 360/-), during the Congress Session of December 1924. The entire park is sacred to those who have love for the history of Belgaum and who would like to preserve some part of its charm,

There are some places in all major cities of the world, where there are only trees, water bodies, water falls, wild flowers and birds – to which the people go after a week of hard labour.

Twenty years from now, the people of Belgaum will yearn for some space free of smoke, dust and concrete structures.

Will we have collectively destroyed Vaccine Depot by then – by inaction, silence, fear ?

Will the people of Belgaum, in 2013 show what mettle they are made of?

Come, ‘Vaccine Depot’ is calling.

You can also sign this Petition 

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23 COMMENTS

  1. Wow what a write up. If only I had writing skills as you had. But anyway I will share my experience of meeting Dr. Prasanna Kumar.
    I lived in Vaccine Institute from the day I was born, 1980 till 1994 when my father got transferred. My father first worked as veterinary doctor in the institute and then as Assistant Director. By the time I was making sense of the world, Dr. Prasanna Kumar had already got transferred. I was only hearing his name, people praising him. My father worked under may Joint Director’s after him, but Dr. Prasanna Kumar was his favourite. Last year I met one of our old acquaintance, who was our neighbour in Vaccine Institute.(We are still in touch with many people who lived there). He brought up the name of Dr. Prasanna Kumar. Now this made me more eager to meet him. So one fine day I met him in his home. He was very happy to see me 🙂
    I spent about one and half hour in him home. He recounted many interesting stories in his career. I am writing few things which I remember about him:

    He is from Kolar district. He did his MBBS from Mysore Medical College and joined service in 1956 or 1959, I don’t remember exactly. (Dr. Sundar Rajan who was Joint Director many years after him in vaccine institute, was his junior in MCC). He then worked in many places including Ramnagara where he served for about 2 months. Then he joined Vaccine institute in 1965. And after 9 years he got promotion internally as Joint Director and moved to Joint Director quarters. He was there till 1984 when he got promotion as Director and moved to Bengaluru.

    During his tenure in Belgaum he did lot of improvements. In his own words he either improved things or left
    it, but did not worsen anything. It seems at the beginning there were no tar roads. Only mud roads were present. So got them lay tar roads. Earlier they used to prepare liquid small pox vaccine. He went to Moscow, USSR and England and then came back and started preparing deep freeze small pox vaccine. The vaccines they produced were of highest quality. The samples were being tested in Netherlands. It seems 1/3rd of the countries small pox vaccines were from Belgaum.

    In 1977 small pox was eradicated. So now they had to produce some other vaccines. They had option of producing either Anti-Rabies or Tetanus. They opted Anti-Rabies. This was because during the earlier days, small pox vaccine was produced from sheep. Later on it was switched over to Cow. So they had all the facilities for using sheep, which was needed for Anti-Rabies vaccine production. Also now they needed more staff then before. So new quarters were constructed. Also they needed one veterinary doctor to be stationed permanently in the institute. So a new post was created and my father was the first veterinary doctor to be posted there on deputation (from Animal husbandry department to health department.)

    At that time in India, Anti-Rabies vaccines were being produced by private companies, state government and also central government institutes. So there were many methods. The one followed in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, was selected since it was a Government institute and it followed Government procedures. Dr. Prasanna Kumar went to Kasauli and then sent three people, including my father, Mr. Bujangaiah and Mr. N.D.Bhatt, for training. They were there for 4 months. It took 2 years for transforming from small pox to Anti-Rabies vaccine production.

    In 1984, after staying for 19 years, he got transferred to Bengaluru and then got retired in 1990.

    He was saying that people accuse him of being strict. But as per him without being strict, discipline
    cannot be enforced. People used to come to office by 10.30. He does not claim sole credit for the success of Vaccine Institute, Belgaum. According to him, even his staff cooperated well. It seems once they got order from Government to send lot of vaccines to Nepal. Medicines were available but packing them was the problem. So after office people used to come and work late.

    Once again a very good article, and appreciate your efforts to save it.

  2. I happened to go thru this article and fortunately I had spent my childhood days in the British Bunglow of the Vaccine Institute when my Dad Dr. T.R. ACHAR was the Director of the Institute.
    The awesome time we had there is something I just cant describe and its one of the best time in our lifetime.
    Its a very nostalgic moment for our whole family including my dad who strived very hard to make it work but unfortunately its a Govt Organisation and hence a lone person cant take any decisions.
    I kindly request the Belgaum people to preserve this Institute as a Heritage and not spoil the beauty of it.

  3. Nice article and thoughts on the Vaccine Depot. What I feel that, as a citizens, we should start cleaning the Area and should be made free of plastics.( lot of plastic and bottles are thrown inside the area ). Start planting some plants,so that our affinity will grow. Request the concerned department to build small lakes so that the ground water level will increase and plants will grow faster,especially near the Teak plantation.Also we can stop the water near Mandoli Road,where it flows and merges with Bellary nala.

  4. Come on Belgaum people…. We just dont wanna sit and watch.. lets join our hands and do something for a cause.. Lets save vaccine depot…

  5. Shailendra,
    The Dept. of Conservative Architecture and the Dept. of Environmental Architecture at SPA have been assigned the task of developing a Botanical Garden and Heritage Park at Vaccine Depot by Prof. Meenakshi Dhote, former Head of SPA, and a member of the faculty has visited Vaccine Depot recently.
    SPA is already in the process of drawing designs.
    If you have any suggestions, ideas, plans please be good enough to contact Prof. Dhote as soon as possible.
    Nitin Khot

  6. Nitin sir really liked Ur article n Ur thoughts ,,, felt very proud to have a person like u as a citizen of belgaum … u create lots of awareness on many things n personally when I meet u , I found u as a very helpful person ,,, God Bless u n all the best

      • Dear Dr. Khot,

        Great views. If I am not wrong I met you in the year 2001 along with Mr. Joseph Thomas at your computer center in Belgaum. I am from Kanjale village in Khanapur Taluka. That was basically for my initial efforts to prepare for civil service exams.
        Kindly revert.

        Regards,
        Sonappa

  7. Can anyone tell me who at the SPA delhi is doing this report. I am an architect and I can help. How I can help pls dont ask me. I know what I to do.

  8. i had the privilege of living in the vaccine depot bungalow when my dad was appointed as the director soon after Dr.prasanna kumar.The place is rich in flora fauna and nothing should be touched here.Just recently i visited again and was happy that the place remain untouched here and now the bad news.hope belgaumites take up the cause and prevent its destruction in the name of development.

    • dear Suman,
      We would be really interested in having a long article from you on the most memorable days of your stay at Vaccine Depot when the battle against small pox was raging !
      Would you by any chance have Dr. Prasanna Kumar’s address in Bangalore ? Or would you be able to obtain it for us ?
      Regards,
      Nitin Khot.

  9. a very good article nitin — hit the nail right on the head — the time has come to tell everyone to keep t
    their hands off open spaces — and huge ancient trees, whether in the name of ‘beautification’ or road widening!!!

  10. THE GOVT HAD DECIDED TO MAKE VACCINE DEPOT A HERITAGE PARK BUT NOW IT CONTEMPLATES REAL ESTATE. IT IS NOT KNOWN WHY THE GOVT IS SET TO DEVELOP REAL ESTATE IN THE HERITAGE PARK. THERE ARE MANY ALTERNATIVE SITES TO DEVELOP REAL ESTATES.

  11. We don’t need any concrete jungle there, leave the place as it is.

    We should protest against if any bastard even thinks about it.

  12. if you want to build stadium den go out of the city n find ne land, even there are many open spaces in Auto Nagar Extn. why you want to destroy the Belgaum’s real beauty?

    Dear Editor plz arrange some protest. I will defiantly attend.

  13. Dear MES Supporter, this is the true colours of you and your elected representatives, those who cannot even develop thier electrol wards, what the hell will they develop the suburb of city,and so far have eaten grants given to them by state govt, MES only contributed only some Marathi Falak’s and otherwise shabby roads and open drain gutters to society, now please go to Mahrashtra and look for development , and ask for grants from Mahrashtra Shashan , if some stale is left over by NCP and Congresss after eating the entire public muck you may get some grnats to build indorr stadium elsewhere

  14. DR. KHOT…RIGHT ON POINT.

    PEOPLE OF BELGAUM….PLEASE PUT AN END TO THIS NONSENSE OF SO CALLED “DEVELOPMENT!!!

    WE DO NOT WANT ANY MORE “DEVELOPMENT” OF THE VACCINE DEPOT. IT IS ABSOLUTELY AWESOME THE WAY IT IS.

    THE PLACE WILL BE RUINED IN THE NAME OF BUILDING AN INDOOR STADIUM. THERE ARE NUMEROUS OTHER PLACES AROUND TOWN TO BUILD THE INDOOR STADIUM. BUILD IT THERE!!!

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