Statue of the Rajah of Panagal at Panagal Park, T Nagar

Residents of T’Nagar and those elsewhere in the city who are concerned about green cover are a worried lot. It is learnt that iconic Panagal Park, located in T’Nagar will soon be taken over by Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) for Phase II of the underground service. T’Nagar is an area that regularly tops city statistics when it comes to particulate matter in the air and Panagal Park has been doing its best to contain pollution. Doing away with it can have serious consequences.

CMRL has however been at pains to deny that it is planning a permanent takeover. A query sent by Madras Musings to the Managing Director, CMRL had a response to this effect. “Only a part of the park is being taken and that too will be restored as a park with better greenery and facilities as per requirements of the people. It is only an underground station,” was the text of the response received. That sounds quite reassuring but those who have had experience of prior dealings with CMRL on such matters beg to differ.

Shobha Menon, one of the founders of Nizhal, the NGO that has done much to sensitise the general public and officialdom on the importance of trees is not very sanguine about the takeover. While she concedes that there is necessity for CMRL to acquire some open spaces during the construction phase, she also feels that the organisation’s record when it comes to restoration has not been all that great. “Look at what has happened to Thiru Vi Ka Park in Shenoy Nagar,” she says. The park in question, a focal point and a much-needed lung in the area was taken over for phase I of the Metro. It lost much of its tree cover during the construction and even though only 30 per cent of the park was to have been temporarily taken over, it was closed to the public in its entirety between 2011 and 2017. Thereafter, despite the commencement of metro services, the park remained out of bounds and residents in the area were shocked that tree felling continued, this time to make way for an underground parking and amenities centre. In their view, all of this was unnecessary as the present parking facilities were more than adequate and amenities available currently are suffering from want of patronage. The matter ended up in the High Court of Madras where it still remains. When asked for its plans to re-green the park, CMRL submitted that it intended to plant 4,800 trees there. Residents feel this is nothing but an eyewash as the park originally had just about 300 trees and these were deemed sufficient. Clearly, CMRL had no serious plans for restoring the park. Also whatever planting takes place will need years before the place becomes a wooded precinct. How are we to assume that all the trees will survive and that in the interim some other urban plan does not interfere with the space?
How then can the situation be any different for Panagal Park?

In the meanwhile, the family of the Raja of Panagal, the erstwhile Premier of Madras after whom the park is named, have written to the authorities expressing their distress over what is proposed. They have also demanded that the small but exquisite statue of the Raja, which stands at the centre of the park ought to be taken care of and in case the Government is incapable of doing so, they are quite willing to keep it in their possession until work is completed. It is not known if a response has been received.
Madras Musings would also like to point out that besides the Raja’s statue, there is one to the veteran actor Chittoor V. Nagaiah just outside the park and inside the precinct is historic radio house, which once broadcast music and other programmes to the general public. These need to be protected too.

Will CMRL heed the pleas of the many concerned citizens?