If you’re 60-plus, queue up in front of the clerk, armed with a clutch of papers (they may range from your voter’s identity card to your birth certificate), go from counter to counter and keep at least a 50-rupee note in your pocket. You may need all these — and probably some more — if you want a morning walk in Salt Lake’s Central Park. A whiff of fresh morning air at Banabitan (the government’s name for Central Park) will now require a bundle of paperwork, plus a biennial fee of Rs 50, for an identity card for serious morning-walkers above 60.
That, however, is much less than the Rs-2 fee decreed for every visitor to Banabitan between 5 am, when it opens, and 8 am.
Forced by protests from residents over the Rs-5 fee imposed on every morning-walker, the state forest department has decided to roll it down, but the new charges come into effect from the first day of 2003. And for the casual visitor, the entry fee after 8 in the morning will stand revised at Rs 10 from January 1, 2003.
Salt Lake’s residents are up in arms against the hikes, both for the 60-plus age-group and the younger generation. “We are lessees of the state government and have the right to use all infrastructure made available by it,” said former vice-president of Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) Welfare Association Sumit Dasgupta. “Why do we need an identity card' Besides, the government should have sought public opinion before deciding on this fee,” he opined.
Banabitan, in Salt Lake’s Sector I, was inaugurated by former chief minister Jyoti Basu in April 1992. The decision to charge an entry fee goes counter to a promise he made that day — that entry into the park would be free for everyone. Banabitan officials, however, say it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the park with the subsidy the state government provides. The original plan — to hike entry fees for post-8 am visitors and impose a charge on the morning-walker —was taken accordingly, they said.
Chairman of Salt Lake municipality Dilip Gupta felt “it is better to pay for a facility rather than close it down for paucity of funds”. Residents, however, refuse to see the official point. “We have sought an appointment with Banabitan officials and are planning to submit a mass petition,” said Md Rafiq, who takes his constitutional at Banabitan ever since its inception.
State forest department officials have left another rollback option open. “We will try to consider public opinion,” additional principal chief conservator of forests Shyamaljyoti Burman said.