Er. Vinod Malhotra
Ranbir canal is the life line of agriculture rich plain rural belt of Jammu District. The canal with a capacity of 1400 cusecs was built during the illustrious rule of Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1905 and thus is deservedly named after him. The design of this canal, conceived by British engineers, is based on gravity flow of water tapped from glacier-fed Chenab river at Akhnoor town about 27kms. from Jammu city. Very few cities in our country located in hot climate zones are blessed with rivers/canals having ice cold water passing through their urban limits. Thus Ranbir canal passing through Jammu city has a great recreational value.
A well laid out park namely Rajinder Park was developed between two branches of this canal (one main & another distributor no. 9-small) from Canal Head to Canal Power house in Jammu city long ago.Our elders tell us that in the pre-partition era i.e. before 1947, people from Sialkot( now in Pakistan) and other far flung areas would visit this park for a cool dip in cold canal water to refresh themselves during summer months. Not long ago, Rajinder Park was a very vibrant Picnic spot for Jammu city dwellers who would visit this place with families in big numbers. The adults and children would enjoy day long baths in canals to beat the summer heat in those days when there were no air conditioners or air coolers. The atmosphere in this park, especially in summers, used to be very festive and full of life. Canal water in this park was comparatively cleaner and thus was a free swimming pool for all sections of people. This park where people would unwind and relax in big numbers was then maintained by Floriculture Deptt. and entry for all in it was free.
Then a very important event happened in 2004 when the State Govt., realizing the immense value of this park in Jammu city, decided to wholly and solely involve J & K Bank in further development and subsequent maintenance of this popular picnic spot. The J& K Bank hired a Delhi-based Consultant and a completely new Landscape Plan was got prepared for Rajinder park and 3.5 kms. long walkway along Akhnoor road. The Bank has invested a huge sum in redevelopment of this area which is laudable. But has this sincere effort of State govt. & Bank resulted in attracting more local citizens to this picnic spot! It needs honest evaluation and introspection.
The park if we recollect had an interesting Baradari structure and an exclusive ladies bathing on small canal which was fully protected from general public (by high wooden walls acting as vision barriers).These two were heritage structures which were both demolished under the Redevelopment Plan implemented by J& K Bank. Similarly canal banks on either sides within Rajinder Park have been fenced by iron grills which are acting more as barriers between the visitors walking on paths and canal waters. In summers warm air coming in contact with ice cold water surface of canal gets cooled down. This cool air then displaces warm air on water surface of canal as well as adjoining area in close proximity to the canal. This cooling effect attracts visitors to sit near canal banks to enjoy in summers. In landscape design terms, it means that at least 10-15 feet land space on either side of canal should have been turfed in mild slopes and developed as sitting area. This aspect has not been exploited fullyin Rajinder park, Sherwani Park as well as 3.5 kms. long walkway along Akhnoor road in Jammu city.It is hoped that J & K Bank which has invested lot of money in this project shall examine this aspect in depth and implement suitable changes in the park layout to make it more visitor friendly.
Another factor which needs introspection by J & K Bank, Jammu Municipal Corporation and our city representatives is about the entry fee levied by Bank @ Rs. 5 per person for all visitors to Rajinder park during day time. The idea behind charging entry fee perhaps is to recover the recurrent cost of maintenance of this park from users. The concept is theoretically good and probably would succeed in high income societies. But it does not seem to have worked for Rajinder Park. J & K Bank earns only Rs. 6 lakhs as entry fee but spends about Rs. 72 lakhs on upkeep of this park annually. The income from park is thus only 8.33% of the total expenditure being incurred by Bank which is peanuts. The Bank is bearing this loss but maintaining this park as a goodwill gesture and as part of social commitment towards Jammu city which is praise-worthy. The effect of this decision, however, has been hard on users. The park, unlike Nishat and Shalimar parks in Srinagar, is visited mostly by local population. It is comparatively small in size and was being used as a very popular local picnic spot before 2004. Lower middle classes and poor sections of society which comprised major chunk of visitors to this park now no longer visit this spot as paying for entry in the park is not palatable to this section of local citizens. One does find some morning walkers in the park as they are issued cheap monthly passes(40 Rs. a month) but during day time and evening time, Rajinder park which used to be full of life not long ago looks dull with very hardly any visitor on most of the week days. Has introduction of fee for entry in this park served the best public interests of Jammu city? The same needs to be honestly evaluated by the state govt. What is important is that people of Jammu city (which is short of required green areas) are attracted to visit this picnic spot in big numbers as it used to happen before J&K Bank appeared on the scene in this case. Pragmatic steps need to be taken to restore life in this park and make it as a hub of recreational activity in Jammu city once again. Ranbir Canal, we must appreciate is a very important element of Jammu city’s urban structure.
Jammu city is expanding very fast towards its western direction i.e. along Akhnoor road side. Unplanned growth resulting from this urbanization ( because of our poor Urban Development regulatory system) along both sides of Ranbir canal is likely to increase pollution levels in canal water unless stringent measures are not formulated and implemented to save canal in future. Need of the hour is to frame a Vision plan for Canal front development from Jammu to Akhnoor and implement it in phases.
(The author is Retd. Development Commissioner Town Planning Org., J&K Govt vinodmalhotra1950 @rediffmail.com)