Way too often Gated Communities are blamed with not caring enough for public properties just outside their gates. And way too often we see public parks neglected, even though surrounded by posh bungalows and Apartment Complexes.
Here is a story from Methodist Colony RWA in Hyderabad, that actually inspired the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation to introduce a scheme for maintenance of colony parks in Public Private partnership.
Here is an Interview with Ms. Gita Dendukuri, MC member in the Methodist Colony RWA, and main contributor to this Initiative.
By our Guest Author: Krishanu Mukherjee.
"So, what keeps you going? What motivates you?"
There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone.
I was talking to Gita Dendukuri, environmentalist and resident of Methodist Colony, Hyderabad. What I thought would be a 15 minutes call, was now nearing an hour. Well, it is not every day that you get to interact with such an inspiring personality. At 65 she is surprisingly lively and full of gusto. She is one the pioneers whose enthusiasm led to enactment of a bill by Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) for maintenance of parks in various colonies. One of the main tenets of the bill says that GHMC would pay for 75% of the maintenance cost of colony parks and the rest will be a contribution of the colony.
"So many things," she says. “You know there is one 80 year old gentleman who comes to one of the parks. He is so happy when he is in the park. When I hear his laughter I say to myself, I want to be able to laugh like him (in the park), when I am 80….. There are so many people who love to come to the park. When you enter the park you see some people doing Pranayam, some are jogging, children laughing and playing around…..’
‘Inside the colony you can hear the constant twittering of birds. It’s like a yearlong orchestra. You know, in one of the parks there are 3 Neem trees which form a canopy and meets in the center. It is like a dome. Even in summer days the area under the dome is so refreshingly cool."
‘But if you ask me, I do it for 2 main reasons. One is I want the environment around me to be good and two is community welfare. The workers who work as gardeners are learning a trade and also earning some money out of this.’
It is amazing how such simple motivations can bring about positive transformation, change your entire surroundings and effect lives of so many people around you.
The Lady, the Colony and the Parks
A colony is usually a gated community with a mix of independent houses and apartments. When Gita Ma’am moved into the community in January 1984, the builder of her apartment had given her layout maps of the entire colony. It was from these maps that she first noticed that there are 4 stretches of land which were demarcated for parks. There was no maintenance of these pieces of land. ‘I started taking some steps to maintain these pieces of land. For the first 3 years, all we did was just cleaned and watered the land’.
She made it her mission to transform the now empty plots of land into beautiful parks. Gita Ma’am’s effort has today transformed a combined area of 2700 meters of land into lush green parks. Not only the park, the entire colony is now lined with trees and provides for ample greenery all around. It is a heaven for our panting lungs. The atmosphere here is definitely cooler than rest of Hyderabad which is known for its scorching heat. The lush greenery of the colony also attracts many birds and the trees provide a safe haven for them. According to a wildlife enthusiast, who also resides in the same colony, there are more than 50 species of birds in the colony.
In most cities, there exist such open spaces which are clearly ear-marked for common use as parks in the layouts approved and sanctioned by municipal authorities. They are misappropriated, sold as living areas or commercial centres, or these open spaces fall prey to encroachment.
‘It was sometime in the early 90s that I approached the Municipality for the first time. The first thing that I did was, made them build walls around the land designated for parks, to keep the land from encroachment. You know in Jubilee hills (a posh locality in Hyderabad) at one time there were 76 plots which were designated as parks. Now there are only 50 left. The other 26 pieces of land have vanished without a trace.’
Gita Ma’am’s statements emanate strong vibes against the current exploitation of our environment. She talks passionately about the parks in her colony. She describes to me how over the last 15-20 years, her continuous efforts have incrementally brought about change.
‘Government offices like municipalities are black boxes for us. How do you deal with them? How do you get the work done?’
I thought I heard a small chuckle from her end before she began answering the question.
‘I follow a top down approach. For example, consider the case of the agreement template that I have mailed you (In Hyderabad, the colonies and the municipality sign an agreement of cost sharing for maintenance of the parks in the colonies. She had mailed me a template of the same. She was referring to this agreement). I mailed the local forest officer for the agreement template. He is the person responsible for this agreement. He did not respond to my mail. I also then called him thrice and I could not reach him. Then I walked into the Municipality one day and met his manager. I complained about his sub ordinates incompetency. Within a few days I got the agreement. However, we have also got a lot of help and encouragement from them. There were many officials from the forest department who were under deputation in the municipality. They helped us a lot with some great ideas for the parks.’
‘The first thing that I got them to do was to build walls around the parks. Though we have houses and apartments in the colonies, the ownership of land for parks and roads are still with the government. They are responsible for their maintenance.’
‘I have met almost 10 commissioners over the last 15 years. There was one particularly brilliant man called Mr. S.K Arora who was the commissioner here in late 90s. The cost sharing model for maintenance of parks in colonies was his brainchild.’
Methodist Colony is a living example of what can be achieved if we work hand in hand with the government. It is very easy to blame the government for everything that is going wrong. But all it takes is a little effort, some collaboration, perseverance and passion to work miracles around you.
The Problems and their Solutions
‘Many a times the problem is with the government policies. For example, if you wanted to make payments related to park maintenance we required signatures from the municipality personnel. The signatories however, would get transferred every now and then.’
Getting the bank formalities done before payments can be made again would take time. It was some time before she managed to convince the municipality to allow payments to happen without signatures of any municipality personnel. As of now, there are 3 signatories from the colony who handles the payments. Payments can happen with signs from any two of them.
There was a phase when people tried to use the park area for various ‘useful’ ventures. There is a well which is around 100 years old. The well is of 50 square yards area. People started using the well for immersion of idols, there were talks of getting it filled so that the land can be used for something ‘useful’. Gita Ma’am’s effort has established a ‘protected’ status for the well. She also wants to get it de-silted so that the now dry well becomes filled with water and can help in rain water harvesting.
‘Proper signage helps a lot in conveying the importance of a place/thing to visitors. I want to put a signage near the well which talks about its importance.’ The parks currently have signage about all the rare species of trees it hosts. There are also plans to put signage about the various species of birds in the colony.
Yes, there are problems all around us. And then there are solutions to those problems as well. The problems are easy to find, the solutions are not. You need to look for them.
‘There are 4 categories of work in a park:
1) Housekeeping – It includes every day activities like sweeping, cleaning.
2) Maintenance – Activities like cutting, trimming.
3) Super vision – Supervising housekeeping and maintenance activities.
4) Manage –Identify the activities which needs to be done in the parks and gives instructions to the supervisors to get those activities done.
I play the role of both supervisor and manager.’ She says with a smile.
The housekeeping and maintenance people work as security guards in the neighboring apartments. Working in the parks is a part time work for them as this work does not pay much.
‘Some of the maintenance staff is really good. The gardener in the rock park keeps giving me brilliant ideas regarding the park.’
The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.
You and Us:
The cost sharing model for maintenance of parks in colonies is a wonderful way in which you can transform the landscape around you. We are usually too engrossed in our own lives that we hardly notice our surroundings. Apartments/colonies and other communities can work together and be the harbinger of change. We all like to keep our home clean and tidy. It all depends on your definition of home. Is it those 2 bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen and the balcony? Or is it the colony around you? Or is it the city?
We at ADDA strive to empower communities to bring about social transformation.
Sample Agreement: http://www.slideshare.net/apartmentadda/sample-agreement-ppp-for-parks-hyderabad (Downloadable)
Sample Letter: http://www.slideshare.net/apartmentadda/sample-letter-private-public-partn-ppp-for-parks-hyderabad (Downloadable)
I have a to-do in my list now. Next time I am Hyderabad, I will make sure I drop by this cradle of nature called Methodist Colony. What about you?
Do post your comments below and let us know your thoughts.