KOCHI: The urban landscape in Kerala is marked by the disappearance of open space for people to converge due to enclosure of the open spaces in tune with the rise in the real estate price. The restrictions on the use of existing open spaces also deprive the people the facility. In a place like Ernakulam apart from the highly saturated Marine Drive and Durbar Hall Ground open spaces are quite limited in the main central business district area. In the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram many of the existing open spaces are denied to the public in view of the restrictions imposed by the agencies controlling these entities.
A similar trend is prevailing in Kozhikode too. The sprawling Putharikandam Maidanam in Thiruvananthapuram, Muthalakkulam Ground in Kozhikode and Rajendra Maidanam in Ernakulam are synonymous with the evolution of modern democratic political practices in the state. These grounds witnessed many historic public meetings that led to the democratization process in the society.
“The emergence of open spaces in an urban landscape in a highly caste-ridden society like Kerala marks the democratization process in the society. It is no wonder that such spaces are vanishing at a time when the famed democratization of process of Kerala has reached a kind of dead end”, said Jolly Chiryath an actor-cum-activist. Although the open spaces have started vanishing in many urban habitats in the state since the early 1990s the political leadership in the state remains hopelessly unconcerned about the development. Political leaders are not much bothered about the huge public spaces anymore as they depend more on new age devices like social media for their propaganda.
“Gone are the days when thousands assembled to hear a leader. So the politicians as a class are immune to shrinkage of such spaces”, Adv Thushar Nirmal Saradhy a human rights activist. Noted environmentalist Prof S Seetharaman said “open spaces are vital for free air passage and absorption of heat. But the situation in Kochi is pathetic”. As against 2.5 hectare open space advocated per 10,000 of the population by international legislations such as that of the European Union, the city couldn’t even claim 10 per cent of the required space, he pointed out.
“Unscientific design and unscientific construction blocks the free air passage”, he said. “Even now urban authorities are not realizing the urgency of the issue. One of the last of open spaces – the 4.5 acre Manapattiparambu near Kaloor is being planned to be used for housing purposes”, Prof Seetharaman said. KJ Sohan, a former town planning committee chairman of Kochi Corporation, lamented about the lack of open space in the city and blamed the lack of foresight on the part of urban planners and policy makers for sorry state of affairs. “The construction spree that the city had witnessed during the last few years has changed the scene. Most of the open spaces have been either encroached or built upon,” he said.
Considering the geographical features, Kozhikode is one of the best environment-friendly cities in Kerala, with its huge stretch of beaches and bio-parks. But due to the restricted entry to its Mananchira Square (the park is open only for less than five hours in the evenings) and the filthy Sarovaram bio-park, free space in the city is very limited. Children suffer more during holidays, due to lack of play areas in the city. In the beach also, parents restrict children from playing, fearing sun stroke.
Though councilors, irrespective of political lenience raised this issue several times at the Corporation council, next to nothing happened. Regional town planner Abdul Malik said that the issue is a complicated and needs more time to solve it.
“Kozhikode does not have open space to meet the demands of its growing population. But the issue is not a simple one to be solved. Corporation is carrying out a study on this regard and the issue has been included in the Amrut project. So, in the near future, more areas would be brought under this concept," said Mr. Malik.
According to M.V. Sugathan patron of the Federation of Residents’ Association in Thiruvananthapuram the people in the city faces the problems of existing places being closed down for public and reserved for only a few. The University stadium which was completed by voluntary manual labour done by citizens in 1952 was closed down for public later. Central stadium was closed down for morning walkers recently, he said.
Thycaud stadium and Chandrasekharan Nair stadium are not always open for children as police department have their own events here. The Tagore Theatre premise was made available for morning walkers only after long fight, Mr. Sugathan said.
According to Mr. Sugathan museum and Kanakakunnu premises are opened to public only because top officials and politicians use them. He also pointed out that Corporation and other government entities have several spaces that are covered by shrubbery. “Developing them to lush green gardens is something which is not on the list of politicians even when we lament about unhealthy life style of our kids”, he said.
“The election time is the right opportunity for the people to bring the issue of vanishing open spaces into the attention of the political leaders. They should be made answerable for the current situation”, said Adv Saradahy....