By Dr.Nitin Khot
Like many citizens of Belagavi, I to have seen the new proposal for the ‘development’ of Vaccine Depot, and I am concerned.
I am concerned for the following reasons:
1) The legal reasons:
The entire acreage of Vaccine Depot is protected by a Karnataka State Government Order (No. AKUKA …) which protects this park as a Heritage Area and Botanical Park.
The new proposal, except for giving Sanskritized names for ultra-modern, high maintenance parks, does not fit within the four corners of the idea of a ‘heritage park’.
2) The ‘heritage reasons’
The heritage of Vaccine Depot stems from its contribution to one of the greatest battles ever fought by India – the battle against smallpox. It was here that the people of Belgaum – led by such scientists like Dr. Prasanna Kumar, worked day and night, in three shifts, to produce the vaccine that finally rid this country of the scourge that used to kill lakhs of Indians each year – many of whom were children. Death by smallpox was one of the most agonizing deaths imaginable.
The proposal finds no place for commemorating this heritage – so how will future Belgaumites remember the contribution these heroes made?
The Vaccine Depot was also home to Mahatma Gandhi during his momentous third visit to Belgaum when he steered our freedom struggle in a new direction from here in Belgaum – a direction that finally led us to freedom, in quicker time than otherwise.
The proposal finds no place for commemorating this moment in history when Belgaum was on everyone’s lips (like Jhansi, once) and where history was forged.
This is the heritage that should have been showcased here.
3) Economic reasons:
Beautifully landscaped gardens with immaculately manicured lawns and well-tended flower beds look very appealing on paper but are extremely expensive to maintain.
The cost of maintaining the tiny ‘Sharqut Park’ (opposite Kendriya Vidyalaya 2 School) has been revealed last year to be Rs. 40,000/- per month and the cost of maintaining the garden patches on both sides of Thimayya Road has been revealed to be over Rs. 12 lakhs annually. A small triangular garden patch inside the main gate of the Fort is costing the Cantonment Board over Rs. 20,000/- each month.
The Cantonment Board has advanced this reason as one of the reasons to raise taxes and lease rents (including charging Union Gymkhana almost Rs. 1 crore) to maintain such parks. Indeed, the Cantonment Board has given up on maintaining one of Belagavi’s most beautiful parks – Queen’s Garden, with its lovely Band Stand, for lack of funds. High maintenance parks are a permanent burden upon State revenues – and when the country has entered into a phase of long term budgetary deficits the burden of maintaining these parks will be shifted to the people who use these parks (as with the Fort lake) and then what might be the fee to enter the Vaccine Depot each morning even for a walk – Rs. 50/- ? or Rs. 100/- ?
Parks such as the park proposed in the Proposal employ an army of gardeners (like the Shalimar and other gardens in Srinagar) and gardeners today have to be paid at well above basic minimum wages.
Beautiful flowers and plants are also prone to theft (at least each morning, “for puja”) and so need to have full-time security staff.
There is the additional cost of manuring the lawn and the flower beds and the cost of pumping and spraying water each and every day.
Today, every proposal which intends to use precious public funds has to have its ‘Operation and Maintenance’ (O&M) models and its Recovery model vetted. There needs to be a thorough vetting by informed citizens of the O&M model behind this proposal so that the Karnataka State Government is not burdened with maintaining a ‘white elephant’.
Let us remember that the present Vaccine Depot costs very little to maintain.
If we properly conceptualize a forest park, with tree houses, aerial walkways, rope bridges, rope ladders, etc, along with heritage features, one could increase footfall in Vaccine Depot without increasing costs.
Just a few years ago, the City Corporation of Belagavi sought the services of India’s leading conservation and environment architects from the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) in New Delhi (which is designated as the Centre for Excellence in Architecture), and a team of experts led by Prof. Rommel Mehta came to Belagavi, camped here for a few days and developed a plan for conservation of Vaccine Depot.
Various groups of stakeholders, especially the student fraternity, are baffled as to why this plan, which cost the Corporation as much as Rs. 25 lakhs has been shelved.
Any proposal for a “Green Belagavi” (as this proposal is titled) should not start by slaughtering trees in a Belagavi that has lost thousands of trees recently in ‘road widening’.
Any smartening up our city needs to be properly prioritized.
About the author:
Dr. Nitin G. Khot, an economist (from the London School of Economics) and Delhi School of Economics, an environmentalist and a social activist.