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Climate change, heritage and Cubbon Park

"According to the Sustainable Development Goals India Index 2019-2020 prepared by NITI Aayog and UN India, for States and UTs, Karnataka achieved an overall rank of six, falling from a ranking of third in 2018. While its performance continued to showcase it as a forerunner state, its performance in terms of specific SDGs namely SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, was quite low placing it at number 18 out of 28 States.

SDG 11 seeks to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable and some of the key targets and indicators of SDG 11 include:

Target 11.4 Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage which are determined by indicators that gauge the total expenditure (public and private) per capita on preservation, protection and conservation of cultural and natural heritage be it of world, national, regional or local significance.

Target 11.6 By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management. One of the indicators to measure the target included annual mean levels of fine particulate matter (e.g. PM2.5 and PM10) in cities.

Target 11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities. This is measured by the average share of the built-up area of cities that is open space for public use for all.

If SDG 11 specifically in terms of Targets 11.4, 11.6 and 11.7 is examined in the case of Bangalore, it would score very poorly in terms of its performance indicators. For instance in terms of accessible, green, public spaces, Bangalore averages at 2.2 sq.m of open space per person, as per a survey undertaken by NGO Janaagraha, who point out that this figure is far lower than the recommended 10-12 sq.m set by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), India. Bangalore has unfortunately also earned the title of one of the most polluted cities in the world being ranked at number 39 in the World Pollution Index by City 2020 Mid-Year, thereby failing to reduce the adverse environmental impact of cities.

In terms of protecting, safeguarding and conserving heritage, Bangalore continues to face an uphill struggle, with infringements upon iconic historical landmarks. The introduction of vehicular traffic through one of the city’s most iconic open spaces – Cubbon Park has been one such demonstration of a lack of sensitivity to the city’s heritage. Not only does this represent a lack of understanding of the natural and cultural heritage value of the Park, but it also indicates a failure to recognise the critical function that the Park plays in the microclimate of the city.

It should be noted that there is an overall comprehension and acknowledgment of the heritage value of the Park and the many historical structures located within it, including 19th and early 20th century buildings namely Attara Kacheri, the State Archaeological Museum, and Seshadri Iyer Memorial Hall, and statues of and memorials to historically significant people. In fact, Cubbon Park has been identified as one of the precincts within the proposed Central Administrative Heritage Zone in the Draft Revised Master Plan for Bengaluru 2031. However, for such proposals to be effective a more nuanced engagement with the idea of the cultural significance of the Park in terms of clearly identified criterion of significance, needs to be undertaken. Such criterion could include those established by CPWD and INTACH which include historical significance, historical integrity and historical context in terms of ascertaining significance of architectural heritage. If an assessment of Cubbon Park’s cultural significance is considered in the context of these criterion, it would qualify to be listed as a heritage site. In terms of historical significance, it qualifies in terms of its association with events and activities that mark the establishment of Bengaluru. It is also associated with important persons such as Sri Chamaraja, Mark Cubbon and Seshadri Iyer; and is perhaps most recognisable as an integral feature of British town planning.

The historic integrity of Cubbon Park is relatively high in terms of the surviving physical characteristics including the overall layout of the Park, the existing historic buildings located within it, and equally importantly the views to and within the Park. Changing any of these characteristics could adversely impact the integrity of the site and in turn its overall significance. The historical context of the Park would also be severely impeded if changes made to and within the Park fail to acknowledge, reflect and capture the historic trends and patterns that accompanied the establishment, expansion and current situatedness of the Park in the larger context of the city of Bengaluru.

Recent schemes such as the proposal to construct a seven storey structure in the Park, and the allowance of the vehicular traffic through the Park, will prove to be detrimental to the historic setting and context of the Park. Such changes need to be assessed in terms of the impact these proposals will have on the overall heritage value of Cubbon Park, and for that an Heritage Impact Assessment needs to be undertaken that assess and establishes the significance of the Park, and ascertains the impacts any such proposals would have on its heritage significance."

~Dr Vidhu Gandhi, 

Associate Dean, School of Law, Environment and Planning, Coordinator UNESCO Chair, Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology  


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