For 85-year-old K Narayana, a stroll along the pathway inside the KBR National Park ensured small pleasures in his post-retirement life for 16 years, till the COVID-19 pandemic struck the city and the nation-wide lockdown ensured that it was closed. The ex-banker reminisces how he made friends during his daily one-hour walk of four kilometers.
Five months after the lockdown was imposed, and even after subsequent ‘unlocking’ of restrictions, public parks in Hyderabad remain shut. With the metro rail service reopening, many wonder why parks are still shut to the public.
At KBR national park, Narayana now walks on the outer pathway without the company of his friends. He can’t recall if the park was ever closed for such a long duration.
“Though the outer pathway is open for the last two months, it gets very crowded. Many people I know have stopped coming. I just walk for half an hour before people start flocking, sit on the bench here for a while and go back,” he said. The park used to be open between 5 am and 9.30 am and 4 pm to 6.30 pm, and among its regular visitors have been several film stars, politicians, and bureaucrats.
“Now, walking or jogging on the outer pathway makes me feel I am in some sort of a concentration camp. In no time did I realise it was a bad idea to visit the park in the morning,” said Mohammed, another walker.
A security guard stationed at the gate receives lots of queries on when the park would reopen. “A lot of people are asking me. If any decision is taken, it will come through proper channels of communication.”
Vishwanath Agarwal, the general secretary of the Public Gardens Walkers Association, says that about 1500-2000 people who used to visit the Public Gardens, one of the oldest public parks in Hyderabad, are left with no choice but walk on the roads. The association, he says, has recently submitted a representation to the government seeking opening of the park.
Since 1995, the association has been holding a health lecture at the park on every first Sunday of the month. Yoga classes, laughter clubs, etc, are other activities waiting to resume. “We are ready to take all precautions and follow COVID-19 protocols,” he says. Walkers and visitors to other major parks nearby, namely, Indira Park, Sanjeevaiah Park, Chacha Nehru Park, JVR Park, etc are all waiting for the government to positively open these spaces, he added.
The opening of parks, according to BT Srinivasan, is not the government’s priority. The General Secretary of the United Federation of Resident Welfare Associations (UFERWAS) said most of the city parks are abused by the public which makes it difficult to ensure public sanitation.
“In the present COVID times, the corporation’s sanitation wing is busy attending to the city’s sanitation needs. Keeping the common areas in public places clean is the priority. The opening of parks may burden them further with the need for more manpower for maintenance and supervision.” he said, adding that parks need to be opened.
Echoing his views, Anuradha Reddy, the co-convenor of the Hyderabad chapter of INTACH(Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), pointed out that city monuments and gardens are havens for the public to get away from the daily stress of their urban living. “At the same time, COVID-19 infections in Telangana continue to be high. As long as the public remains ignorant, arrogant, and undisciplined, opening up these spaces without proper supervision and sanitation mechanisms wouldn’t be safe.”
A senior official of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation(GHMC), when contacted, said a decision in this regard is awaited from the government.
In the Greater Hyderabad region, there are 919 landscape parks and 315 tree parks, maintained by the municipal corporation and residents welfare associations, all of which are currently closed.
GHMC Mayor Bonthu Rammohan told indianexpress.com that the Corporation was ready to open all the parks but was waiting for a green signal from the Center. “According to unlock guidelines, amusement parks are to be kept closed. Though walking parks are different from amusement parks, many parks have open gyms, gazebos, and amusement areas. There is no clarity on which ones can be kept open.”
Meanwhile, the GHMC has set itself a target till December to inaugurate an additional 320 parks in residential colonies and another 50 themed parks across Greater Hyderabad. The Corporation has come up with around 35 themes ranging from Knowledge, Science, Environment, Interactive, Colours, Topiary, Illusion, Therapeutic, Multi-generation, etc. and they are slated to be spread across areas ranging 1 acre to 20 acres.
According to a citizen activist Harish Daga, GHMC is being lethargic about the opening of parks. “The Centre has not restricted any State from opening parks. If cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata have opened parks, what is stopping the GHMC?,” said Daga.
“Non-opening of these lung spaces may appear to be a trivial issue but it is the need of the hour, especially when people are stressed out due to the pandemic. The government should take all precautions and must open them”.
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