Protest ID Card Entry to Lalbagh and Cubbon Park
Stop Elitist Management of Public Spaces Shri Umesh Katti Karnataka Minister of Horticulture Dear Shri Katti, Access to Public Spaces in a city is a fundamental right of all people. Parks as public spaces serve many purposes for people in their daily lives. They provide a public place for people to walk, rest, have a picnic, let their children play, and enjoy a few moments of peace away from the grinding stress of city life. They help foster good health, social gathering and quietude. Without parks, the city becomes a soulless concrete jungle from which there is no escape. What was once known as the “Garden City of India,” Bangalore has seen rapid destruction of its parks and public spaces in recent years. Lakshman Rao Park, Chikka Lalbagh, and KR Road Park are just some of the green spaces that have been stolen from people. With the dwindling status of parks, it is vital that we protect the few remaining sanctuaries we have left in the chaos of the city. Next on the chopping block are two icons in Bangalore’s history: Lalbagh and Cubbon Park. These parks, however, will not be destroyed by axes and earthmovers. These will be destroyed in a much more subtle way: by the intentional exclusion of the most disadvantaged sections of the population. Already Lalbagh has imposed a Rs. 10/- entry fee – an exclusionary tactic and outright violation of the Right to Use of Public Spaces. A family of five cannot afford to take their children to play in the park at a cost of Rs. 50/- to enter. Under the guise of protecting the parks from those who would damage them, the Horticulture Department has now decided to implement a system of elitist exclusion and surveillance by requiring all walkers at certain hours to carry electronic identification cards. This act is unprecedented anywhere in the world, and violates a person’s inalienable Right to Access their Parks. The very principle of restricting access to spaces which should be open to all is appalling, but the actual ramifications are equally frightening. Walking clubs have already rejected a Rs. 200/- annual fee to access the Lalbagh, but middle-class walkers will be the least affected by this proposal. What happens to those who cannot afford the Rs. 50/- ID card (plus the cost of a photograph) or who do not have proof of address The proposal of a Rs. 200/- yearly fee for walkers has been rejected for now, but there is no guarantee that this won’t come up again. Moreover, who will decide which applications will be accepted into the select club of morning walkers People who do not fit the class based application criteria will be subsequently barred from entry. The manner in which the policy is formulated encourages the particular exclusion of access rights of the urban poor (particularly minorities), street and working children, elderly people, transgender, migrant workers, labourers, street vendors, drivers of autorickshaws and taxis, differently abled, families with children, etc. The use of a scannable ID card to gain entry to the dwindling green spaces in the city has the ominous aura of some authoritarian society from a fantasy novel. What is the real reason for implementing this ID card There is nothing inherent in the card which protects the park. It is entirely possible and likely that people would buy the card, and would continue to misuse the park anyway. At the heart of this plan is the simultaneous surveillance of the citizen, and the exclusion of “undesirable elements” from a public space. Destruction of the parks will continue regardless of an ID card, and their protection can continue without it. The perception of the city is being changed fundamentally before our eyes. As PM Manmohan Singh travels to the US to help encourage more investment in India, cities are being reworked to be more appealing to foreign capital. In the frantic attempt to foster an image of Bangalore as a IT city, peoples’ rights in the city are being eroded by culturally sterile elitist proposals of restricting access to the commons. In this imagination, the city is organized around the private individual, who travels by private car to their IT job in Whitefield or Electronics City, returns home to a private gated community, and walks around the track of the newly private park during proper “business hours” - all the time with an electronic ID badge swinging around their neck. Such a vision of “development” creates private bubbles around citizens, protected against the perceived filth and disorganization of the city. This can only be done through the exclusion of all marginalized communities who threaten the privileged comfort of the middle class. Public goods should be just that: public. If the private world is based on the principle of exclusion, then by definition the public sphere should be inclusive. ID cards create a system of private parks, based on the exclusion of those who cannot afford the fees. What one is really doing by paying Rs. 50/- for an ID card is buying a membership to a private club. This does not mean that parks shouldn’t be protected against misuse and destruction. However, such exclusion of access reinforces class divisions, which simultaneously overlaps with other societal divisions based on caste, employment, appearance, religion, etc. The principle of restricting entrance to public spaces based on a few people’s perceived misuse holds disturbing ramifications for access to many public goods. Beaches, roads, sidewalks, lakes, and the future of public commons are all threatened by this logic. We the undersigned demand that you revoke this elitist and illegal policy as it violates people’s fundamental Right to Use Public Spaces as a fundamental component of their Right to Live. Parks should be open to anyone who wishes to enjoy the green havens in the city, free of charge, and not just those who can afford to buy a membership.