A citizen's park is the battleground for the first citizens of Calcutta, present and past.
'Don't call it a park. If you really want to know, it's a plain monstrosity,' mayor Bikash Bhattacharya said on Wednesday, his first working day in office. What provoked the outburst was a file on his table of the Rs 9-crore Citizens' Park, the last high-profile project of his predecessor, Subrata Mukherjee.
The 10.5-acre park opposite Rabindra Sadan, commissioned amid much fanfare on May 8 in the run-up to the civic polls, is already at the centre of a raging controversy within the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) over steep maintenance costs and a push for privatisation.
Seeing red over the former mayor's precious patch of green is present incumbent Bikash Bhattacharya .
'I think we are saddled with a liability,' admitted the mayor-lawyer. 'The park is huge, aesthetically not pleasing and capable of setting the city back by a few lakh of rupees every year in terms of maintenance. What do we do with it'
Mukherjee, for one, couldn't be bothered. 'If the truth be told, Citizens' Park is Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's baby, to which I played the midwife. Now that I am out of the CMC, I am not really bothered what his own man (Bhattacharya) does with his baby,' the former mayor told Metro.
Bhattacharya held a lengthy meeting on Wednesday with the director-general (civil) on the Citizen's Park, which the CMC had laid out at the behest of Calcutta High Court.
According to the mayor, he would not have agreed to the creation of the park as it exists now. 'There is nothing wrong with the court order,' Bhattacharya stressed, ' but the approach to the task set for the CMC was most certainly flawed.'
What would he have done differently from the Trinamul Congress' mayor'
Appoint an expert on outdoor gardens and parks to prepare a blueprint for proper use of the large stretch of premium land by the Victoria Memorial
Set up a task force to coordinate with the expert and study some of the best parks in Delhi and replicate one of them in Calcutta
Ensure more trees, hedges and shrubs and less illumination in the park, making it a true resting place for both humans and birds, especially of the migratory variety
Get permission from the army and design a few lotus ponds
Use some of the budget on developing and beautifying some slums around town.
'I am amazed that we used up huge resources to produce a mediocre park, which has only paved pathways, iron railings and imported lights to show off,' Bhattacharya said. 'It's a pity that nothing can be done now. We either live with it or let someone else oversee it.'
Privatisation of the park could throw open another Pandora's box, but the CMC is set to invite bids for maintenance contracts.