The Government has unveiled an exciting package for the erstwhile Agri-Horticultural Society Gardens which stand on both sides of Cathedral Road. When the plan transforms into reality, the patch of green will become one of the largest lungs in an increasingly congested city. Going by the schedule, this is likely to happen by September this year.

Originally a single expanse of green spanning 20.76 acres, the garden was divided when Cathedral Road was laid in the 1850s. The southern portion was occupied by the Woodlands Drive-In Restaurant which was evicted from the place following a High Court judgement in the government’s favour in 2008. The northern portion which housed the horticultural society’s offices and a large garden continues to remain in use. Both parts are now in the possession of the Horticulture Department of the Government which has approved the plans submitted by Rajendran Associates, an architectural firm of Chennai for the development of the gardens. The implementation is being done by the State’s Agricultural Department in collaboration with private landscaping agencies. The whole exercise will cost Rs 8.00 crores.

Work on the southern side began last year and is expected to be completed by September 2010. When completed this will have Italian, German, Japanese and English Gardens besides generic forms such as butterfly, rock and aroma gardens. A children’s play area will also be opened within the southern portion. While plans for the northern side (sandwiched between the Cathedral and the Rane Group’s headquarters) are yet to be unveiled, it is reliably learnt that there are plans to link the two sides by means of an overbridge or a subway. This correspondent fervently hopes that it is the latter for the city’s skyscape has been marred sufficiently by flyovers and overbridges. Also it has repeatedly been pointed out overbridges are rarely used in the city. Most people find the task of climbing up very irksome. The same goes for subways. Whatever the solution it must provide for escalators so that people can use the corridor with ease. The CMDA is however yet to give approval for corridors of either type for the garden.

While all these plans look good and will no doubt be beneficial to the city when executed, it would be best to keep in mind certain do’s and don’ts while going ahead. Firstly, the entire garden is full of very healthy trees and it would not do to cut them down for putting place English/Italian or any other garden. Whatever is to be designed must be done keeping these trees intact. The city has already lost a lot of valuable green cover in Government Estate and its environs owing to the new Assembly buildings and a repeat of the same will not only be ironical considering that a botanical garden is being planned, it will also be severely detrimental to the city’s ambient air quality. The plans while giving the assurance that no permanent structure will come up in the gardens is silent when it comes to the trees.

Secondly, whatever is designed and developed will need to be maintained well. The Chennai Corporation has shown that it can maintain its parks very well. Can the same quality of maintenance be extended to the proposed botanical gardens? Security will also be required for a large wooded expanse should not become a den for nefarious activities. The struggle that took place to relieve the Madi Poonga on Old Jail Road of these elements is still fresh in public memory.

Lastly, can we hope for public conveniences which are clean and kept available? Else our public which largely thinks that trees are sent into this world for only one purpose may put them to uses that may render the gardens a not very appealing place.