The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Missing, grand green vision
- Revival plans last drawn up and lost in Sixties

Wanted, a masterplan for the Maidan. Or else, we might as well script its epitaph.

With the city's solitary central oasis liable to being carved up into pieces of isolated development, the one thing making its absence felt on the Maidan is a grand vision for the greens, within which the preservation and the beautification programmes can be plotted.

Urban planners have flayed the move for piecemeal development over fractured plots, fearing that it will murder the essential character of the Maidan.

Ironically, what Calcutta thought in the 1960s, it is incapable of thinking after the century has turned.

'What is required is a well-conceived masterplan, maybe on the lines of the one drawn up by (civil designer) Gordon Cullen in the early 60s,' says veteran architect and planner Santosh Ghosh, former chief architect, Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Organisation (CMPO).

Cullen, whose book The Concise Townscape published in 1961 pioneered the concept of townscape, had prepared the Maidan masterplan on behalf of Ford Foundation, linking it with New Market and Dalhousie Square.

The core of the celebrated British civil designer's proposal was to convert the stretch of Chowringhee between the Park Street junction and the SN Banerjee Road junction into a lake, with waterside cafes and allied areas of interest, as part of the overall revival of the entire area.

The rest of the Maidan would remain green and grand.

Later, the CMPO drew up another masterplan for the Maidan in 1968, which, too, was stillborn.

'Now, we need a complete overhaul, hence a fresh outline. Under no circumstances should fragmentary development be allowed. Everybody wants a piece of the Maidan, and if they all have their way, the core character of the unique green body will be lost forever,' warns Ghosh, who had worked with Cullen on the Ford Foundation blueprint.

Architect-planner Dulal Mukherjee, chairman of the West Bengal chapter of the Indian Institute of Architects, agrees: 'The Maidan should be a single homogeneous unit. There must be one masterplan and all development on the green patch should revolve around that axis.'

Mukherjee opposes the move to develop 'cosmetic gardens' on the fringes without any detailed layout.

'The Maidan is not an isolated strip, like Vivekananda Park or Deshapriya Park, and can't have diametrically diverse characters at different corners. We have to be careful so as to not repeat the mistakes of the Dhakuria Lakes,' he cautions.

The demarcated development of the Maidan is also likely to make it 'very elitist', rob the greens of its flexibility of usage, and turn it into a signage jungle, observes Partha Ranjan Das, architect-planner anchoring the riverfront development initiative.

'This is not desirable, and some areas should be left alone for the common people and all the kids who play cricket or football on the Maidan,' stresses Das.

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