Government Must Ensure All People Get Unhindered Access to Public Spaces
Author: Vinay K. Sreenivasa
A few years ago, when some members of Hasiru Usiru wanted to have a meeting in Traffic Park on St Marks Road, the guard asked us to leave because the park closes at 6pm. This park had been handed over to a realty group which then fixed timings for the park. Then there are parks where even the keys are with the resident welfare association and not BBMP.
Our parks are being turned into places with a concrete track, ornamental plants and unapproachable lawns. Restricted timings and restricted usage of parks are reducing the livability of this city.
Not everyone can go to a coffee shop, pub or a restaurant to relax. When we cut off access to parks, it hits the disadvantaged groups the most.
Sometimes parks are closed as RWAs seek to keep out `undesirable’ elements, which usually mean couples, the homeless and beggars. However, none of the reasons given by BBMP or RWAs speak of an illegal use. The restrictions placed, however, are illegal and arbitrary.
Then, what is the way forward? The Karnataka Parks, Play-fields and Open Spaces (Preservation and Regulation) Act, 1985 talks of making parks accessible to all. Several Supreme Court judgments have held that parks must be administered based on the Public Trust Doctrine, which rests on the principle that resources like air, sea, waters and the forests must be accessible to all. The government must ensure people get unimpeded access to parks.
Simply put, parks must first be made open to all and at all times. If a person indulges in an illegal activity, that can be reported to police. One is not against residents’ participation. After all, we have been asking for the rights of residents to administer the city through ward committees. However, only certain privileged groups should not have the power to administer. What is needed is a change in the way ward committees are constituted. That is what will make our cities liveable for all.