Public parks reopened on Monday with restricted visiting hours, which means they are barred to the public for most of the day.
Many Kolkatans have been demanding that parks, which were shut earlier this month following a renewed surge in Covid cases, be kept open for longer hours, ideally throughout the day.
If malls and restaurants can remain open through the afternoon and evening, there is no reason for keeping parks shut for the better part of the day, they argued.
Keeping the parks open for a longer period could reduce crowding, they said.
Parks across Kolkata opened their gates to visitors on Monday after remaining shut for about 20 days.
Mayor Firhad Hakim told The Telegraph on Monday evening that he had appealed to the state government to allow them to keep parks open throughout the day.
Before the Covid pandemic struck, most parks used to remain open from 6am till 9.30pm.
“I have spoken to the government so that parks can be kept open for longer hours, maybe like what used to be in the pre-pandemic days,” Hakim said.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), he said, could keep the parks open only if the government gave its nod.
KMC has about 700 parks in its custody, including Rawdon Square, Deshbandhu Park, Deshapriya Park and Minto Park. From Monday, the parks will remain open from 6am to 9am, and again from 4pm till 6pm.
To many Kolkatans, the restricted hours make little sense.
“Ideally, parks should be open from morning to evening. Longer hours would mean everyone would not try to come at the same time, which is actually beneficial amid a raging pandemic. Many elderly people prefer to visit parks in the afternoon, when the premises are generally not as crowded as in the morning,” said Joydeep Phukan, a resident of Dover Road in south Kolkata’s Ballygunge.
Mudar Patherya, a resident of Sarat Chatterjee Avenue, near Rabindra Sarobar in south Kolkata, had a similar view.
“I find no reason why parks should be shut for so many hours and open for only a few hours,” Patherya, who had emailed the chief minister demanding reopening of parks, said on Monday.
Doctors and public health experts, too, felt that there would be no harm if parks were kept open for longer hours.
“Parks are open-air spaces where the chances of transmission of Covid are less than in indoor spaces like restaurants, malls, spas and salons…. There will be no harm if parks are kept open for longer hours,” said Abhijit Chowdhury, a public health expert and a member of the state government’s Covid task force.
Two of the largest parks in Kolkata — Subhas Sarobar and Rabindra Sarobar — will remain open only from 6am till 9am. Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) is the custodian of these two parks.
“This is a step that goes against the physical and mental well-being of people. The decision also discriminates against the poor who cannot afford to go to a café and relax. A stroll in the park or simply sitting down on the grass is a very good way to relax and one does not need to pay for it. Why are we keeping people away from open, free spaces?” asked a Kolkatan.
Chandrima Bhattacharya, state urban development minister and KMDA chairperson, said it was not in her power to throw open the parks for the whole afternoon.
“How can I say why parks are not being opened for longer hours? It is the government’s decision. If the government tells us to open parks for longer durations, we will do so,” she said.