This article is written by Astitva Kumar, a student at JIMS, School of Law (An Affiliate of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University). This article deals with the issue of the halt to vehicular traffic within Cubbon Park to preserve the park’s environment.
In the early 16th century, the Vijayanagar Chieftan, Kempe Gowda, founded Bangalore. It was originally known as Bangaluru and was a small fort constructed primarily of mud. Bangalore is India’s fifth biggest city and is known as the Garden City because of its many parks and open spaces. The city’s two main green spaces are Lalbagh, a 120-acre garden, and Cubbon Park, an 80-acre garden.
Cubbon Park, also known as Sri. Chamarajendra Park is a historic park situated in the city’s Central Administrative Area. The park surrounds the State Legislature house, the Vidhana Soudha, the High Court Buildings, the Attara Kacheri, and several other institutions located on the park’s outskirts and within the park, which forms the Central Administrative Area. The park is also known as Bengaluru’s landmark ‘lung’ area.
Cubbon Park has been around for over a century. The park’s landscaping creatively combines natural rock outcrops with thickets of trees, large bamboos, grassy expanses and flowerbeds, and the monuments within its boundaries, as governed by the Government of Karnataka’s Horticulture Department. The park’s largest green area has many motorable roads, and the well-laid-out walking paths that pass through it are popular with early morning walkers and naturalists who research plants in the peaceful natural setting.
Historical Background of Cubbon Park, Bangalore
Cubbon Park was founded in 1870, subsequently after the completion of the current high court structure, Attara Kacheri. In 1870, the Park’s original area was 100 acres. It grew in size over time, reaching about 260 acres by the 1950s. Cubbon Park currently spans 197 acres and 31.50 guntas. The park is part of the government’s Central Administrative Area (CAA).
Major General Richard Sankey originally developed the park’s vast terrain in 1870, when he was the then-royal Chief engineer of the Mysore State, which was then under British rule. Initially, a 20-acre terrace garden was built, followed by the development of the other areas. It was first known as Meade’s Park, since the park was developed during the reign of John Meade, Commissioner of Mysore State. Subsequently, in 1873, it was renamed Cubbon Park, after Sir Mark Cubbon, the longest-serving commissioner.
The park was officially renamed Sri. Chamarajendra Park in 1927, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Sri. Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s reign in Mysore State. During his reign, the park came into existence. However, the public prefers to refer to it as Cubbon Park.
Cubbon park traffic – a rising concern
While the COVID-19 situation caused chaos for many people and commercial establishments, it proved to be a boon for Cubbon Park, allowing its greenery to flourish during the lockdown in 2020. This was the inspiration behind the battle to keep one of Bengaluru’s largest public lung spaces—an impressive 197 acres of unspoiled nature in the heart of the city—permanently free of traffic and other emissions.
Citizens’ groups have advocated for a ban on cars entering the park. Following the opening of the gates for motorists in the morning, several citizen activists staged a rally. Not only citizens’ associations, but also several government departments, have advocated for a ban on traffic movement inside the park, in the Central Business District. The Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) in Bengaluru, which is part of the Department of Urban Development, has strongly advised the Karnataka government to close Cubbon Park to motorized traffic and to prohibit vehicle parking there.
In April 2020, urban mobility experts along with civic activists had approached the traffic police with the issue. The traffic police had agreed to have no traffic inside Cubbon park as they felt that managing full traffic could be difficult. Heritage Beku had then suggested that buggies, cycles, and EV vehicles be provided inside the park to support the elderly, persons with physical disabilities, and youngsters.
Priya Chetty-Rajagopal of Heritage Beku, a group which is advocating a traffic ban, said, “On June 30, in response to the overwhelming support among citizens for keeping the park traffic-free after lockdown restrictions were eased, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) passed a unanimous resolution representing all 198 wards of Bengaluru (and thus all citizens of Bengaluru) for a complete ban on vehicular movement and parking within Cubbon Park, except for bicycles and electrified vehicles. Further, she said, how can one so blatantly disregard the voice of the citizens of the city”?
The blow came when a reversal of the BBMP decision was implemented on August 22, 2020, without prior notice or public consultation. The Bengaluru Coordination Committee (a group of experts who advise the state government on urban development policies) declared their intention to reintroduce vehicular traffic on August 24, 2020, in the park.
Following that, S. Umesh of the Cubbon Park Walkers’ Association said that the association had petitioned the Karnataka High Court to prohibit the entry of motorized vehicles into the park. “Allowing traffic within the park is against the general interest. The government has ignored the people’s pleas as well as the advice of the DULT and the BBMP. Allowing no traffic inside the park would aid in the preservation of the park, which is situated in the heart of the city.”
In addition, Karnataka Horticulture Minister K C Narayana Gowda endorsed the notion of keeping Cubbon Park traffic-free. As per Gowda, the park is governed by the Karnataka Government Gardens (Conservation) Act of 1975. “Environmentalists are encouraging traffic to be stopped at Cubbon Park within the center of the town .” The Karnataka Government Gardens (Conservation) Act, 1975 also applies to Cubbon Park. This is why it is critical to prohibit traffic on 197 acres of land, recognizing that it is a supplement to the park’s development.
With that, Heritage Beku member Rajkumar Dugar (also the Founder and Convenor of Citizens for Citizens) created a traffic impact analysis, the findings of which were eye-opening. Dugar compared the traffic effect when cars used the most popular routes through the park versus discovering alternate routes using Google Maps and mapping four separate routes through the park. Three roads carried the most traffic through the park: one from K R Circle to the Kasturba Road – Vittal Mallya Road junction, another from this junction to GPO Circle, and a third from the Indian Express side to the junction side. So according to Dugar, “One has to only travel an additional distance of 335m on average to bypass the park”.
The following were discovered as a result of Dugar’s research: The maximum effect on routes was an extra 650 meters, and the minimum impact was zero. The amount of extra driving time was just two minutes. In effect, the only “sacrifice” expected of motorists is an average of 335 meters and two minutes, for which we endanger the entire Cubbon Park – its scenery, ecology, and green space.
Observation of the Karnataka HC
In response to a contempt petition filed by the Cubbon Park Walkers Association, the Karnataka government clarified its decision. As per government officials, the government’s advocate’s submission contained the views of all agencies involved in the phase. The Division Bench of Justices B V Nagarathna and N S Sanjay Gowda later dismissed the contempt of court proceedings, enabling the petitioner Cubbon Park Walkers’ Association to appeal against the government’s decision. The Division Bench also observed that the state government complied with the HC’s order to evaluate the Association’s representation submitted in October 2020 to consider vehicle movement control, if not a full traffic ban.
A five-month-old baby in Bengaluru also filed public interest litigation (PIL) requesting a ban on traffic movement inside Cubbon Park. Kian Medhi Kumar’s petition moved through his father, claims that the carbon monoxide level at Cubbon Park was significantly reduced during the lockdown, which lasted from March 24 to May 20. A study conducted by a team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science, according to the petition, recommended that closing the park to vehicular traffic had a positive impact on the environment around it. According to the report, allowing vehicles to drive through the park had no effect on the traffic situation in the surrounding areas. The petitioner responded by saying that the government’s decision to allow vehicular traffic inside the park is an action by “environmentally insensitive respondents” that’s also “directly impacting” his health, quality of life, and life expectancy. The petition also quoted an order by the joint director of the Department of Revenue reevaluating guidelines to enable pedestrian and vehicular motion inside parks, which was issued the day after the state government directed the Department of Horticulture to open parks under its jurisdiction.
Following that, a division bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Nataraj Rangaswamy issued a notice to respondents, which included the Karnataka government, the Bengaluru City Traffic Police, the Karnataka State Disaster Management Authority, and Directorate of Urban Land Transport.
The disagreement on the part of the government
The Karnataka Government has determined that traffic flow inside Cubbon Park cannot be prevented and must therefore proceed as it always was. Rakesh Singh, Additional Chief Secretary to Government, Department of Urban Development, filed an affidavit before the Karnataka High Court.
The government stated that vehicular movement within Cubbon Park; Bengaluru will only minimize the road network in the central business district by 5 kilometers, but creating further traffic jams on at least half a dozen roads. Daily, approximately one lakh vehicles pass through the park’s six gates, putting additional strain on the two, and “On average, about eight lakh vehicles ply on the roads located in and around Vidhana Soudha.” About 1.2 lakh of them visit the park. If entry is prohibited, these 1.2 lakh vehicles would have to drive an additional five kilometers. Vehicles heading to Hudson Circle, KR Circle, and Mysore Bank Circle would also have to pass through three more traffic signals: near Chinnaswamy Stadium, GPO, and opposite the high court. Soudha Vidhana Vidhana Soudha Vidhana Soudh.
Consider the amount of CO2 emitted by these additional vehicles and the traffic congestion on these roads during peak hours. We are not opposed to walkers or greenery, but we believe that prohibiting cars from entering the park would exacerbate the negative effects. Cubbon Park was shut during the lockdown of 2020, and when the Unlock process began, traffic cops from nearby stations began moaning about the ban’s heavy toll on the roads and, as a result, on them.
- Even if traffic is permitted within Cubbon Park, the roads surrounding it and elsewhere in the CBD are already overcrowded and in operation. To address this, the more long-term and realistic solution is to strengthen the need to enhance public transportation (bus and metro). So prohibiting traffic in Cubbon Park would encourage people to use more efficient modes of transportation such as public transportation, biking, and cycling.
- Furthermore, local and low-cost traffic management initiatives (such as intersection upgrades, one-way two-way traffic, traffic signal timings, and so on) can be devised to provide immediate and short-term relief in roads adjacent to Cubbon Park.
- Now that establishments and organizations are operating within Cubbon Park, prohibiting traffic through the park would cause certain disruptions in terms of commuting and connectivity. To reduce these difficulties, a survey can be conducted in each of the current entities and organizations operating within Cubbon Park to map and cluster their workers and visitors, based on which targeted changes in bus and metro service access can be made to find things simpler for them to use public transportation to reach Cubbon Park.
- To make Cubbon Park a more socially vibrant space, a blueprint and long-term strategy can be developed. Without negatively affecting the park’s ecosystem or biodiversity, the blueprint will recommend ways to enhance leisure opportunities and other types of social interaction within the park, which would also lead to changes in the city’s health and well-being.
Cubbon Park is well-known for its diverse plant life and public structures such as the state central library, tennis pavilion, Karnataka High Court, and Vishveswaraya Industrial and Technological Museum. Its proximity to Vidhana Soudha and residential areas attracts both casual and frequent visitors. Furthermore, it is Bengaluru’s only park where traffic is permitted to pass through. However, the park was closed during the lockdown in 2020, and several groups have called for a halt to vehicular traffic within the park to preserve the park’s environment or biodiversity. However, the Karnataka government has stated its intention to reintroduce vehicular traffic, and several PILs have been filed in this regard since then.
So the battle isn’t over yet; several organizations and organizations are looking for a long-term solution to the issue of traffic and vehicular movement in the park while still preserving its biodiversity and greenery. For this, the IISc study suggested a park survey to look at ways to improve last-mile connectivity from nearby Metro stations and bus stops. According to the study’s recommendations, DULT and volunteer community groups are preparing to undertake such a survey.
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