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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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