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Eden Turns Vice Den

August 13, 2008

By Krishnendu Bandyopadhyay

Kolkata: It’s back to square one for Eden Gardens. Just a month after it was thrown open to the public – without an entry fee at the gate – shady elements have made it back to the park. The long, leafy walks have turned into a den of criminals and pimps, especially after dark – just as it was four years ago.

“We do not have much control over entry to the park. So, many undesirable elements are entering the grounds and spoiling the atmosphere ,” said a forest department official.

The Eden impasse has its roots in the entry fee debate. Four years ago, the forest department , which maintains the park, imposed a token entry fee of Rs 2 after taking permission from the local military authority (LMA), which owns the land. The logic was that the entry fee would stop loiterers and vagrants from entering the park, arguably Kolkata’s finest.

But a few months down the line, in March 2005, LMA revoked the permission on the contention that the Maidan cannot be used commercially . An indignant forest department argued that the fee was a token amount that would help keep tabs on who goes in.

“After we introduced the tickets, there were some significant changes in the visitors ‘ profile. After a long time, middle-class families started coming back. Most importantly , the footfall shot up. People came back as they felt secure inside,” said another official.

But the LMA-forest department stalemate led to the closure of the park. For two years it was out of bounds, till it was finally thrown open on June 22, 2008. But with no entry fee, the park has rapidly turned into a haunt of criminals.

“Slowly, common people will stop coming here. And once they stay away, it will be over taken by thugs and goons. No matter how many security guards you post, you won’t be able to salvage it,” said a forest department officer.

“Above everything else, we did not levy an entry fee to make profits. Selling a Rs 2 ticket, we cannot even recover one tenth of the cost of the park’s upkeep. But the entry fee guarantees we have a headcount and are able to keep out unwanted elements ,” argued a forest department official.

Before the entry fee was imposed four years ago, the park’s atmosphere had touched a nadir. It had become a den of vice and people were frequently targeted by snatchers and thugs. Now, things seem to be going in that direction again.

The forest department though still hopes that the army would finally permit them to impose an entry fee. “We are always in touch with the army. They also keep a watch on the park. Let’s hope they understand why the entry fee was so important,” said a forest department officer.

CHEQUERED HISTORY

Eden Gardens was set up in 1835 by Emily Eden and sister Fanny Eden. They were the sisters of the then governor general, Lord Auckland It came up on 55 acres of land with exotic plants, flower and foliage. But over the years, the cricket stadium, Netaji Indoor stadium, Kshudiram Anushilan Kendra and Akashvani Bhawan ate into this area and Eden was truncated to its present area of 15 acres In 1847, the pagoda was gifted to the gardens by the Burmese king, who was greatly impressed by the garden. The water body inside it is linked to the Hooghly and shows the effect of high tide and low tide Eden Gardens is owned by the ministry of defence, but maintained by the forest department

November 1, 2004:

The urban and recreational forestry division of the forest department obtains permission from the local military authority (LMA) to introduce an entry fee of Rs 2

March 22, 2005:

The same LMA raises objections about the entry fee and on March 22, the park is closed to public by the forest department

June 1, 2006:

The Calcutta High Court asked the LMA and forest department to sort out the issue and open the park. Both stick to their standpoint and refused to resolve the deadlock

March 30, 2007:

A high-level meeting at the state secretariat decided to throw open the park without the entry fee. The meeting is attended by senior army officers, chief secretary and forest secretary among others

June 22, 2008:

The park is thrown open to public

(c) 2008 The Times of India. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.




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