Bengaluru parks to stay open during the day: Great move but who will check?

There is a need to introduce a mechanism to track whether parks are being kept open in accordance with the announcement.
Cubbon park, Bengaluru
Cubbon park, Bengaluru

ewOn June 11, 2024, the Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka, DK Shivakumar, announced that all 1200 neighbourhood parks in Bengaluru would remain open from 5 am to 10 pm. This announcement is laudable, as it comes at a time when the city is facing unprecedented temperatures.  

However, such announcements of keeping parks open for longer hours is not new to Bengaluru. Previously, in 2022, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) issued an order to keep parks open between 6 am and 8 pm and closing them between 10 am and 1:30 pm for maintenance. However, ground-level assessment revealed that several parks were found closed during the regular opening hours. These incidents point out that there is a need to introduce a mechanism to track whether parks are being kept open in accordance with the announcement. 

 Parks to combat Heat Waves

Studies have shown that parks play a crucial role in reducing the effects of urban heat islands, as they cool the environment. They also help improve air quality. In 2023, the Odisha Government effectively implemented a Heat Wave Action Plan to deal with the adverse effects of heat waves in Cuttack. To curb the threat posed by heat waves, corporations were directed to keep public parks open during the peak hours of the day, to provide resting spaces for the public. The government went a step further to promote afforestation initiatives by planting trees in vacant spaces, thereby preparing the city to face climate-induced challenges. Similarly, the Karnataka Government Heat Wave Action Plan 2024 also clearly states that parks must be made accessible during heatwaves. Last month, the Madras High Court heard a plea to extend access to parks during late hours owing to the extreme summer heat.  

The real problem

As the legal history of the park timings suggests, it is not the lack of a mandate that has stopped parks from being open, but the lack of enforcement. The BBMP Act, 2020 and the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976 empower ward committees to be involved in the maintenance of parks within city premises. The BBMP also engages with Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) and corporate bodies to maintain parks in the city. However, a real concern is the fact that RWAs often direct the security guards to keep these parks open according to their whims and convenience, thereby regulating park timings and perpetuating discriminatory practices. Most gig workers, construction workers and street vendors who seek refuge in these parks are often forced to sit by the road, as parks are usually shut during the hottest hours of the day.

The announcement of keeping parks open met with backlash from a certain section which stated that 'young students' would spend time at parks doing 'unwanted things' like 'romance' and there would be activities by 'miscreants'. Such a response is concerning for two reasons – one, that the reaction is only the tip of the iceberg and can percolate to become restrictions on the ground by local residents themselves. Two – the lack of effective monitoring on-ground will inevitably yield more power to these residents. These glaring and alarming concerns show there is a need to ensure that orders by the government are enforceable on the ground by holding local associations responsible for discriminatory practices.

Way Forward: Enforcement and accountability

Currently, RWAs and corporate bodies maintain parks through agreements that are signed with the BBMP. These agreements lack mechanisms for accountability, in case of discrimination or non-adherence to government orders. Adding to these woes, the lack of an effective policy or bye-laws to maintain parks at the municipal level further exacerbates the issue of preventing RWAs from partaking in discriminatory practices.  Although the powers of maintenance and management of parks have been devolved, there has been no devolution of accountability. The Karnataka Parks, Play-fields and Open Spaces Act, 1985, responsible for maintenance of public parks in the state, offers nothing on regulating maintenance agencies, their non-performance or restrictions on admission into the premises, thereby contravening the intent and purpose of the legislation. 

While it is imperative to admit that urban governance will not be effective without the active involvement of public representatives such as the RWAs, it is essential that there there exists a check mechanism from the civic authority to ensure that no person trying to access public amenities are discriminated against or quite literally, deal with gatekeeping by these associations. Most importantly, the buck should not stop with keeping parks open throughout the day - the conversation must evolve on how these spaces are to be maintained, managed and made accessible for all. For a city that is both facing the effects of rapid urbanisation and concretisation, the protection of public parks is the only way forward.

Varini G is a Research Fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, Karnataka and is primarily interested in issues of local governance, equitable access to cities and devolution of power. Sneha Priya Yanappa is Senior Resident Fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy working on urban governance, education and data & technology regulations. Views expressed here are the authors' own.

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