Residents of Shenoy Nagar, especially those who live in the lanes around Thiru Vi Ka Park, all speak fondly of the time the park truly belonged to the people. They remember walking in the park as children, hosting events that were enjoyed by the community and taking refuge from the harsh Chennai sun in the cool shade of its many trees. But all this changed with the arrival of the Koyambedu-Shenoy Nagar-Nehru Park metro station. The park that was closed to residents in 2011 remains so after all these years, leaving only a yearning for the past and a fight for its future.
The park, which served as a green lung for Shenoy Nagar, was taken over by CMRL for underground metro rail work in 2011. This was merely a few years after a large scale renovation of the entire park by the Chennai Corporation in 2007, at a cost of Rs 64 lakhs.
With the metro rail construction underway, trees in the park were felled to make way for the Metro. The initial plan by the Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) was to only utilise 30% of the total expanse of the 9-acre park for construction activities. The park was then to be restored to its original state and reopened to the public in 2017.
“The park was taken from us in 2010 for metro construction. At that time we were assured that the CMRL would hand the park back to the public with minimal damage to trees, once the Metro was up and running. I wrote to the MD of CMRL and got written assurance about not cutting more trees than necessary, and that the trees cut would eventually be transplanted. The Metro was a public project and we could not protest against it. With assurance from CMRL, the work went ahead in 2011,” says Jyoti P, a long time resident of Shenoy Nagar.
Shenoy Nagar underground Metro was opened to the public in May 2017. The residents then expected the Thiru Vi Ka Park to be restored and opened to the public the following year.
“When the Metro was announced, there were no protests as we were promised that the park would be restored and reopened. But after the Shenoy Nagar line became operational, one of the residents got wind that the CMRL had plans for an underground parking lot and mall connected to the metro. As such, there was no scope to reopen the park immediately and the public were not informed about this,” says Rangashree Srinivasan of Shenoy Nagar.
Indeed, fresh plans by the CMRL involve the creation of an underground amenities centre right below the park that will span 4.26 lakh square feet. It will comprise two levels and will house a food court, parking lot and shopping mall. The parking lot will have the capacity to hold 600 cars and 1000 two-wheelers.
Construction work for the same began in October 2018, even as residents were expecting the handing over of the park. As more trees started to be felled within the premises and in the periphery, residents became aware of the plan to construct the amenities center. They were shocked by the felling of trees overnight, the sound of construction at night and the dust generated by the activity. What was once a green space that brought joy had become a source of nuisance.
When they realised what was happening, they filed RTIs in December 2018 demanding more information on the construction, seeking to know whether a feasibility report and environmental impact assessment had been done prior to commencement of the construction, but are yet to receive a response for the same.
The residents also filed a writ petition and a PIL in December 2018 at the Madras High Court, demanding that the CMRL return the park to its original state and abandon the construction of the amenities center. The submission made by CMRL to the Madras High Court, in response to the petition, states that it intends to plant 4800 trees in the park, while the original park was only home to around 300 trees.
Waiting for spring, again
A partial reprieve came in the form of the first injunction by the High Court that ordered the stoppage of felling of trees and construction activity at night. Further hearings are scheduled in the coming months.
“People had been using this park over 50 years. It was such a lovely space. We held community events like the Sangamam that saw many attendees. There were so many native trees such as Pungai, Nagalingam, Veppam, Vaagai in the park. Even if they plant saplings and transplant trees, with the concretisation of the underground, how will these grow? What happens to water seepage? The groundwater levels will be greatly affected,” says Rangashree.
What is sadder is the fact, as residents point out, that the reasoning by CMRL to construct the amenities center as a centre of revenue is flawed in itself. The parking facilities currently available at the Shenoy Nagar Metro do not operate at full capacity. A fast food outlet that had been opened in the premises also shut down due to poor patronage. With this precedent, the creation of a larger parking area or a commercial space is hardly likely to find takers, they say.
Residents of Shenoy Nagar still hold hope that the court will rule in their favour. “We hope to see the park restored and trees growing again. If not in our lifetime, at least for the future generations,” says Jyoti.
A spokesperson of the CMRL declined to comment on the issue as the matter is subjudice.