Green is the warmest colour: The warriors of Cubbon Park

100 CCTVs were installed on the premises to ensure women’s safety.

The myriad plans to construct in Cubbon Park, the city’s precious heritage lung space, have never come to fruition. On the other hand, the statue of Sir Mark Cubbon, the park’s namesake, will finally be shifted to the bandstand, where it belongs. 100 CCTVs were installed on the premises to ensure women’s safety. Working behind the scenes to ensure that justice always comes to Cubbon Park and those who use it, is Umesh Kumar, a High Court advocate and President of the Cubbon Park Walker’s Association. Currently at the forefront of the opposition against the seven-storied structure sanctioned by the High Court, Umesh is an advocate himself, one who chooses to lend a voice to those who have none. This includes supporting cases nobody else would touch, writes Vishaka V. Warrier, including that of Veerappan’s wife, Muthulakshmi and LTTE’s Ranganathan.

Bengalureans, whose pride in their city has taken a beating of late thanks to its overwhelming traffic and pollution, are now seeing their beloved green oasis at its very heart, the Cubbon Park, steadily dwindling with the passage of time.

The city’s version of London’s Hyde Park has come under threat this time from a proposal to build a seven-storeyed annexe of the high court in its grounds. But not all Bengalureans are willing to take this lying down.

Leading them in their battle to save Cubbon Park from losing more of its greenery is Mr S Umesh Kumar, an advocate and president of the Cubbon Park Walkers’ Association (CPWA), who has organised a protest in its grounds on Sunday to stop the government from going ahead with the project that is threatening to shrink it further.

“It is the responsibility of all the people of Bengaluru to save Cubbon Park. If we don’t act now, all that will remain of it will be a statue and a tree. We need to preserve it as it is,” Mr Kumar stresses.

For Sunday’s protest he has mobilised activists, environmentalists, walkers, and celebrities to show their solidarity with the cause of saving the park from losing more of its green cover to concrete structures. “Following the protest, we will take signatures of all those present and fight this legally,” he asserts. As the verdict backing the construction of the building in the park was issued by a single-bench of the high court, the advocate-cum-green activist plans to appeal to the division bench against it and even go as far as the Supreme Court if need be.

Mr Kumar’s legal advocacy has always been laced with humanitarian ideals. While still a student leader in college, he ardently worked to give a voice to students in difficulty and as a young lawyer, he chose to work for people in need, raising a few eyebrows when he decided to represent notorious forest brigand Veerappan’s wife, Muthulakshmi, the LTTE’s Ranganathan and Balasubramaniam, and others. “No one was ready to take their cases , but I did as no one is born a criminal or trouble-monger. Circumstances often play a role,” he explains.

Going a step further, he also supported Muthulakshmi when she contested elections in Tamil Nadu. But following his return to the city, he began in 2009 to file multiple petitions over storm-water drain encroachments, the BBMP’s low price leasing of buildings, demolition of huts, and so on. To his credit he was victorious in almost all his pleas to save the city.

Mr Kumar’s love affair with Cubbon Park, however, began when he was still a student of Bangalore University and used its Central Library for his reading and research. He remembers with nostalgia spending quality time having intellectual discussions with his friends near the library in the park as a young man and so when in 2012 , he once again began to frequent it for his daily walks he was disturbed to see its transformation. “The park had become a den of robbers, the sandalwood mafia, eve-teasers and prostitution,” he notes sadly, adding sorrowfully that from a lung space of 300 acres , it had also shrunk to around 100 acres.

Not one to give up, he began to explore ways to turn it around and restore it to its former green splendour. As president of the Cubbon Park Walkers’ Association, he introduced identity cards for the walkers both for their own safety and to keep miscreants away from its grounds. The CPWA, under his leadership was also successful in restricting traffic in the park, installing CCTVs and curbing illegal and immoral practices in its grounds.

Blaming the horticulture department for much of Cubbon Park’s troubles, Mr Kumar wonders why it seems to only want to preserve Lalbagh, the other much loved lung space of the city. “Why is only Lalbagh given all the attention and why this neglect of Cubbon Park? Why is there a move to commercialise it?” he demands angrily.

The advocate is now rolling up his sleeves to do battle on the latest threat to it from the building which could come up in its grounds. “This is an assault on the breathing belts of the city. I will work as long as I can to sustain its green cover.

And I will challenge any move that will cost Cubborn Park anymore of its greenery,” he declares passionately.

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