Chennai’s many parks provide much-needed green spaces in the city. They are abuzz with activity on most days, with many residents choosing the space to walk, work out, catch up with friends or spend some time outdoors. The city’s 525 parks attract a wide cross-section of people and represent a microcosm of the surrounding areas.
However, what is markedly rare is the use of the spaces provided by the parks for activities such as outreach and awareness campaigns and other programmes in public interest.
NGOs and advocacy groups, which are best placed to host such events, have been facing some challenges in securing the necessary permissions to hold such campaigns. A lack of clarity on the steps to obtain permissions and the conditions for which such permissions are required has been a key issue.
NGOs experience hosting events at Chennai parks
According to a representative from a city-based NGO, who sought anonymity, the non-availability of a set procedure to apply for permission online has made them run from pillar to post.
“When we approached the officials at Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), we were asked to submit a letter, which should be typed out in our organisation’s letter-pad, to the respective zonal officials in the Parks department. We followed as instructed. The zonal officials gave us a copy of the same letter sealed and signed by them. They said that a similar copy would be sent to the respective park supervisors and we can go ahead with conducting the event,” the representative said.
However, on the day of the event, the organisers found that the park supervisor had not received any such letter from the zonal office. This left the organisation unable to conduct the event.
Even after planning and having done all the preparatory work, they had to cancel the event due to miscommunication between the officials.
On another occasion, even when the GCC officials gave a nod, the police department did not give permission leading to the cancellation of the event at the last minute. “The police personnel told us that in case of any untoward incidents happening during the event, it would be them who have to bear the brunt and not the GCC officials,” said another representative from a city-based NGO pointing out the jurisdiction issues between various government departments.
These are not isolated incidents.
“When we organise awareness programmes or events pertaining to public good in a space like a public park, it is easy to take the message directly to the stakeholders. These programmes are not held for any monetary benefit. However, having been made to run from pillar to post, we now prefer indoor programmes where only a select few people can participate,” said G Dhayalan, also from a Chennai-based NGO.
Virgil D, Director of NGO Arunodhaya, has not faced many challenges in obtaining permissions. She narrated her experience of frequently conducting awareness programmes and meetings in public parks. “We used to conduct awareness programmes and meetings with adolescents, children and women. On occasions like Menstrual Hygiene Day or Women’s Day, the awareness programmes had a good reach when we conducted them in the park. Initially, the public park had defunct lights and was not painted in years. Once we started conducting frequent events, where zonal officials were invited as special guests, the park was renovated. They repainted and fixed the lights as well,” she said.
Events at Chennai parks
A request from most of the organisations seeking to use parks to run campaigns was to online the application process to secure permissions.
While the process is not digital at present, here is all you need to know to secure permission to host an event at any public park in Chennai.
What are the events allowed in public parks?
The GCC usually allows medical camps, awareness programmes and other general events that would benefit the public at large.
What kind of events are not allowed?
The GCC does not allow programmes pertaining to marketing, political gatherings or religious events. Distribution of pamphlets which advertises the said categories would also not be permitted. Similarly, installation of microphones, speakers, shed and chairs would not be allowed unless exemptions are granted. The organisers can make use of the existing infrastructure and will not be allowed to make any changes to it.
What are the particulars needed to be mentioned in the letter seeking permission?
The letter should contain details pertaining to the aim of the programme and the date, time and place. Though there are no restrictions on the number of participants, a declaration stating that they would not cause public nuisance should be submitted. The letter should be typed out on the organisation’s letterhead. It should be addressed to the respective Regional Deputy Commissioner (RDC) through the Divisional Revenue Officer.
How will the permission be processed?
The letter, if all particulars needed are mentioned right, would be signed and sealed by the RDC. A copy will be given to the organisers and the same would be forwarded to the respective AEs and the park supervisors by the zonal officials. The organisers should get similar permission from the local police station under whose jurisdiction the park falls under and show the letter to the park authorities on the day of the event.
Is permission needed even when a certain number of people gather to talk?
If a certain number of people simply gather to talk informally, no permission is needed. However, when a formal gathering is planned, it requires permission from GCC.