Pandemic, Poor Maintenance Takes a Toll on Guwahati’s Parks
GUWAHATI: The need for safe recreational facilities in a city cannot be undermined and is a basic civic requirement. Guwahati unlike many other metropolitan cities always had greenery to offer to its residents. In recent times however, increased urbanization has caused a lack of space and taken a toll on the city’s greenery thereby fostering the need to create and maintain the existing recreational facilities to its prim and proper condition.
Contrary to this, the popular parks across the city are exhibiting symptoms of rapid deterioration.
Shraddhanjali Kannan, RG Baruah Road
One of the most popular parks in the city, Shraddhanjali Kannan has deteriorated significantly over the years. There has been a decrease in footfall on weekdays since the park reopened after the pandemic induced lockdown. Even before the pandemic, there were not too many visitors to the park. The main issue, as per a few insiders, is the problem of maintenance.
"Out of three or four water fountains, only one of them is working. The rest are still under maintenance. The canteen barely has any customers," one of the security guards told G Plus.
There are technical failures in the various rides including the main attraction - the hanging ship.
Although the park has been kept considerably clean, the children's rides are in a faulty condition. Only on Sundays, the park is a bit packed with visitors. Many rides including the hanging ship, train ride, small helicopter ride and horse ride for children experienced technical difficulties having become jammed because of having remained closed down for several months during the pandemic.
G Plus spoke to the park engineer, Alam, who admitted that most of the rides and water fountains are not in working condition. "We are making an estimate and plan to repair them soon. Due to the pandemic, we have seen a decline in the number of visitors. Only on 31st December and 1st January, there was a huge crowd in the park and we earned more than a lakh of rupees within those two days. We are also planning to revamp the park a little before the Chief Minister’s program on 26th January which we do every year," Alam added.
Uzanbazar River Front Park
The G Plus team that visited the park found it under unhygienic conditions especially beyond the bridge extension. People were not sitting on that side of the park and the decline has precipitated further since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Since the park reopened, there has been a decline of footfall. The condition of the park has also worsened but the cleaning process is going on. A few of the people also could not come to clean the park due to the lockdown that had happened," Firoz Ali, the ticket checker of the park told G Plus.
Nehru Park, Panbazar
Nehru Park is one of the oldest parks in Assam. It is a public park in the heart of Guwahati city opposite the premier education institute, Cotton University. It is a major tourist attraction of the city as well as a place of recreation and walks for Guwahati’s citizens. Historically, the area of the park earlier was part of an old church that was later developed by the Assam government.
The condition of the park following the pandemic has degraded immensely. The grass has grown to about thrice its normally maintained length and the park looked almost impenetrable after the months of lockdown when nobody could maintain it.
"When the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) sent workers to clean the park, it took them around eight hours of continuous work daily for one month to clean the park. When the park was finally cleaned, the GMDA took out 40 trucks of garbage. 5 trucks of garbage are still left to be cleared out, which they will be doing soon," said Sarbeshwar Deka, who is working as a security guard there for the last three years.
The water in the fountains is filled with fungi and dirt. The fountains have stopped working ever since the pandemic and haven’t been fixed yet along with the diffused lights of the park. As per a source, "The GMDA did send an engineer who came to check on the lights and other infrastructure, and he estimated that almost all the lights needed to be fixed." So far, only some of them have been fixed and the rest are still in the same condition.
Although the lights were supposed to be fixed on time, they haven’t been done yet. Due to this, many areas of the park are shrouded in darkness. This has raised concerns about safety considering that many children play there.
"The problem is that these things need to be run by through many higher authorities which takes a lot of time and hardly ends up happening," the source stated further.
Another concern for the park has been the security; there is shortage of manpower to cover all of its areas. The park authorities have alleged that a few miscreants scale the walls and try to steal lights. "We have to be on rounds all the time to ensure that no such thing happens. We do 12-hour duties here from morning 6 till the night security comes by," added the security guard.
All of the aforementioned issues induced with COVID-19 have also affected the footfall at this popular park. "Last year we had a collection of Rs 2 lakhs on New Year’s Day. This time we collected Rs 1,35,000," said the park’s ticket collector, Mitro Deka. He further stated that a lot of renovation had been done and the park was in really good condition. However, since 2018 the maintenance process slowed down. The construction of an office room began in 2018 itself, but it still hasn’t been completed.
Tarun Ram Phukan Park, Bharalamukh
The Tarun Ram Phukan Park faces similar problems of subdued footfall and maintenance post-COVID-19 lockdown. But it has recovered and has coped better than the other parks. “There are a higher number of people on Sundays and there were a lot of people on the 1st of January. We open the park at around 5 in the morning for the people who like to come for walks," said ticket collector, Dharmeshwar Kalita.
Although the children’s play area is fairly well maintained, the walking area has been kept ignored. It has plants and weeds growing naturally, showing clear indications that no one tends to it. The bridge which connects the park to the other side of the road is also not properly maintained. One broken ride was noticed by this reporter.
Cleanliness has been an issue and the security guards claim they are not equipped enough to handle it alone. "I and four other security personnel live here inside the campus itself and clean the park in the morning. It becomes a bit difficult for us to clean the entire park by ourselves,” added the ticket collector. He further alleged, “The GMCH vehicle doesn’t come in the morning and so we usually throw the trash in the dustbin nearby.”
What ails the development of the parks?
G Plus contacted the prime authority, GMDA, which is in charge of developing the parks. G Plus spoke to a senior official who stated that the lack of maintenance began post the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased the maintenance problems of the park.
For small repairing works of the park, usually, a junior engineer would be involved and for that allowances to the tune of Rs 15,000 are given to them. But since February, there has been an issue with the allowances, which has affected the capacity to maintain the parks.
As for Nehru Park, a government proposal was forwarded for remodelling but has been under hold due to budgetary issues, as revealed by the source.
The GMDA is planning to intensify the repairing but it also faces infrastructural issues. Along with monetary problems, the monitoring of the workers is also an issue as it involves manual work.
Beyond the issue: Can Guwahati dream of sustainable living?
Parks and open spaces improve physical and psychological health, make our cities and neighbourhoods more attractive as places to live and work. Numerous studies have shown the social, environmental, economic and health benefits parks bring to a city and its people.
In the trees of the parks, many local birds come to take shelter. "The small birds make their nests in the parks especially," said environmentalist Moloy Baruah, President, Early Birds. He further stated that the rapid degradation of these spaces has accounted for the habitat destruction of these birds.
"At times we even see construction materials being kept in parks thereby destroying the ambiance of the area. Why can’t we take the example of Bangalore, which has managed to develop so many parks?" added Baruah.
The lack of adequate lighting brings forth the issue of women's safety in the parks. “Even when I go for a walk, I make sure to leave the park before dark, because there are hardly any lights which actually work. I prefer to walk on the footpaths because at least they are somewhat more lit up than the parks. The parks that I used to visit were completely dark," said Tinnat Atifa Masood, socio-political activist.
“Until a few years back, I felt much safer than I feel now. Nowadays, I have to be vigilant all the time, even on the properly lit up roads, let alone parks,” she added.
In the light of these, the question is, when will these parks actually become proper recreational spaces, with proper lighting and other facilities?
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