Parks are complex but most important part of any city. Since ancient times of Maharajas gardens/parks are the most important aspect of any city and those were the times when lavish gardens were developed not in kanals but in acres of land.
Fact is that some modern cities are famous, known for the gardens developed within their municipal limits like Chandigarh for Rose and Rock Gardens and Srinagar for Mughal Gardens Shalimar, Nishat and Harwan. Though centuries have passed but they are still lungs of cities, source of recreation and mental peace or simply providing visual appeal for residents. Practically parks/gardens act to define the shape and feel of a city and its neighborhoods as they are also important tool for revitalization. Parks provide intrinsic environmental, aesthetic and recreation benefits to our cities along with economic benefits as they enhance property values, increase municipal revenue, bring in homebuyers and workers. Just as growing communities need to upgrade and expand their built infrastructure of roads, sewers, utilities, they also need to upgrade and expand their green infrastructure, the interconnected system of green spaces that conserves natural ecosystem, sustains clear air, water and provides a wide array of benefits to humans as well as wildlife. Green infrastructure is a community’s natural life support system, the ecological framework needed for environmental and economic sustainability.
Early morning chirping of birds along with cool breeze and rising sun, all are a treat to eyes, music to ears and soul for morning walkers and parks are the happening places for all this. Similarly parks are a boon for childhood especially in pandemic time with no classroom activities and as such many children not able to learn effectively within a classroom and parks are an alternative, hands-on learning environments to match their varied learning styles. Public parks are often the driving engine for tourism, local as well as tourists and major economic boosters as visitors use some mode of transportation to leave their homes and travel to these parks, which are supported by various kinds of services, such as hotels/motels, restaurants, and retailing. Parks are commonly thought of as the venue for fun and games but that is not the only one role they play in a metropolitan environment. Urban parks include parkland, plazas, landscaped boulevards, waterfront promenades significantly defining the layout, real estate value, traffic flow, public events and the civic culture of our communities. With open spaces, our cities and neighborhoods take on structure, beauty, breathing room and value.
Jammu, especially old city, unfortunately have very few parks/gardens which include Zanana Park, Mubarak Mandi central garden, Rani Park, so fewer in numbers to be counted on fingers. Zanana Park is exclusively for ladies and being close to Civil Secretariat lacks commercial activities due to security reasons, Mubarak Mandi garden now in shambles surrounded by heaps of rubble all around and Rani park has virtually been turned into street hawker market. Jammu doesn’t have culture of societies in place to develop residential flats like in other cities where society park is very much part of the building societies to develop a residential colony. These open areas are not only ways of recreation but the most important aspect of rain harvesting for ever depleting ground water.
Among all these hiccups Maharaja Hari Singh Park on Maharaja Gulab Singh Marg came as a drop of oasis in middle of desert. Inaugurated in March 2018, spread over 43 kanals of land with aesthetically laid walking tracks, children swings, ornamental sheds, benches, dustbins, open air gym besides beautifully laid flower and rose garden. The Grand Statue of Maharaja Hari Singh inside the park is a treat to watch, one can feel the aura of Maharaja while standing beside the statue and no doubt is a craze for ‘selfie lovers’ of Jammu. A separate ladies corner in the park and open gymnasium are also there providing much needed value addition. Other things to mention are the planted Rashi trees,Vastu trees, Navgreh trees, Tridev and Triveni trees, creating unique essence of our old Indian Vedic culture and values. Developed at an approximate cost of five crore, park also have the outsourced Coffee House and a refurbished library within the park premises. Overall an all in one package for every age group and centre of attraction for whole Jammu for quite some time and any visitor can see as well as feel the happiness of children on swings, old people enjoying walk on track or sunbath all along the day and young ones cozying up all along the benches of the park. Adjoining hotels, Jammu Haat, exhibition ground just add value to the location of park. On one side view of Raghunath Mandir, Biwi Chand Kour Gurudwara and on other side Surya Putri Tawi with Bahu Fort, Bagh-e-Bahu, temples of Bawe Wali Mata and Maha Maya are a treat to enjoy day and night. With projects of Artificial Lake and Tawi River front in the pipe line it is one of the most happening place of Jammu, well conceived and developed within a limited space.
But as in the past and like the fate of many other projects in Jammu, this Maharaja Hari Singh Park also witnessed total callous attitude of the administration. Though closed for more than a year due to COVID lockdown, right now the place is in total shambles. The moment one enters park one can sense now that the magic and aura is long gone as dust smothered statue of Maharaja with broken protection pillars greet the tourists. All the swings, sea saw, duck riders, round swings are broken with springs and other parts scattered as litter all along the park. Water accumulation below swings make young ones joy ride quite risky on slippery ground. Outsourced coffee house is no more there, closed during COVID lockdown, never to be opened again despite the fact that restaurants all over India opened up. While sitting on benches in front of Coffee House one confronts many visitors, young as well as old, enquiring about library which is also locked now a days for reasons better know to JDA. A walk towards the ladies corner further reveals that open gymnasium is no more there and visitors are greeted with pile of scrap, broken trapezium, bungee equipment and what not, an ideal place for wasps, honeybees and reptiles. During the inguration, the then CM Mehbooba Mufti directed JDA to undertake plantation drive on the river front to enhance the green cover in the area adjoining park but instead of trees, piles of garbage dumps are there to greet visitors. Walk on the other side of park is also not an experience to relish and remember. Water coolers installed inside the park are without filters, reasons again best known to JDA but risk to visiting children who frequently use these coolers to quench their thirst. A visit to toilet leaves no one in doubt that authorities are least bothered about maintenance, original fittings removed, holes in walls, stop gap arrangements put in place with no inter urinal side coverings. The pillar adjoining main gate depicts the life and valour of Maharaja but is no more readable as JDA seems to have no money even for ink paint to rewrite the grand life story on the pillar. Most astonishing aspect in the park is missing bases of almost all the iron dustbins in the park with the result total garbage litter in the whole park. Though roses and other flowers are very much there even now but no water pipe to water them.
It is a matter of serious concern over the quality of work done in the park as within three years whole installed equipment right from dustbins, toilets, gymnasium etc all have become junk, either everything was substandard or have not been maintained properly and both the cases require investigation and fixing of responsibility. Untreated upper city sewage is dumped into river Tawi at cremation ground adjacent to this park due to which throughout the day visitors get tormented by foul smell emanating from down flow of sewage along the bank touching the park. It simply shows the non serious attitude of administration as no STP is even proposed to treat this part of city sewage despite overhyped tall claims of Jammu Smart City Projects.
Overall the much enthusiasm of any visitor disappears within minutes as one enters, a five crore project now doesn’t deserve a free visit leave alone a ticket of ten rupees. It seems every project associated with Maharaja, be it decades of Mubarak Mandi restoration or lightening and maintenance of Maharaja Hari Singh Statute at Tawi bridge or this Maharaja Hari Singh Park, are all jinxed, initial hype created but practically flop shows. Though assigned with the task of developing Jammu but as fate of many other projects in the past and present like new bus stand, JDA has miserably failed to maintain this park, reasons better known to JDA but practically another sad story of no responsibility with no accountability. It is strange that while GoI is providing unprecedented funds for infra development and maintenance to Jammu and Kashmir yet JDA has no time, no intent, no money for maintenance of this park.. Parks/gardens are not things which can be built time and again overnight as such existing ones have to be maintained regularly to build a healthy society. With the issue of holiday on occasion of Maharaja Hari Singh’s birth anniversary already at boiling point, one expects authorities at the helm of affairs to be sensitive enough to address all these issues of this grand park of Maharaja Hari Singh without any delay.