Sunday, September 11, 2011

Phoenix Bay Playground: A Victim of Political Game


Phoenix Bay Playground: 
A Victim of Political Game

By Zubair Ahmed

It is a story of a group of underdogs fighting to protect a playground from the inept administration and shrewd politicians. Since 1970s a two-acre plot situated near fisheries jetty next to PMB office is being used by the residents of Phoenix Bay as playground. They had dreamt of a spacious ground with stadium on the plot. But scheming politicians competing to outdo one another were busily engaged in getting the plot allotted to various departments.
Every two years the residents had to face new challenges. Till recently, they have resisted all attempts by the administration and politicians from snatching their playground from them. Although, the plot was allotted to the Port Blair Municipal Board to develop as a playground, the local politicians got it allotted to various departments just to score some brownie points. An ex-MP even tried to construct a Yatri Niwas, despite a court order banning construction at the site.
 In 1990, the land was allotted to Central Warehousing Corporation for construction of a warehouse. After various representations by organizations and the residents, the order was cancelled in 1993 and allotted to Municipal Council for developing it as a playground. In the order cancelling the warehouse and office building, it is clearly mentioned that the Ministry of Environment and Forests have not allowed any construction on the plots due to its proximity to the sea.

The playground was to be jointly developed by Municipal Council and Education Department. A total estimate of Rs 5,84,000/- was prepared and the work on the playground commenced during 93-94.
But the joy did not last long, when another order came from the administration in 1996 allotting the playground to three departments Port Management Board, Fisheries Survey of India and Directorate of Shipping Services.
 As a last resort, a group of residents from Phoenix Bay area with the help of a local organisation stepped in and filed a case in High Court for intervention on war footing to restrain all concerned departments from any illegal and unlawful construction at the site. The organisation pleaded before the court to consider the 1991 notification issued by MOEF, where it is clearly stated that no new construction of buildings shall be permitted within 200 metres of high tide line. The area was earmarked as a No Development Zone. It also pleaded that the Municipal Council had already spent an amount of Rs 4,68,931/- in the development of the playground. The High Court passed an interim order that no construction should be carried out and all the parties should abide by the result of the application.
Despite the Court Order, on one part of the two-acre plot, Fisheries Survey of India constructed its office building. It is sheer contempt of court, says, P A Salam, a retd executive engineer, who had moved the High Court. But, lack of resources has broken their resolve.
Now, a huge edifice stands on the plot. The vacant land is used as an open stockyard by Harbour Works. However, Salam feels otherwise. “Still the playground can be restored,” said Salam. He blames the local councillors and the MPs for the debacle. Everyone tried to encash the opportunity.
When CPIM had a councillor in the area, he wanted to develop the ground and build a stadium in that area, which irritated the local Congress councillor, who used his clout and machinations and tried his best to resist it and got the plot allotted to various departments.
When the land was allotted to three departments, Bishnu Pada Ray ex-MP too got into the loop and tried his luck. He coaxed the Directorate of Shipping to construct a Yatri Niwas at the site. He used his connections in Home Ministry and got an order issued by P K Jalali, Joint Secretary, MHA for construction of the Yatri Nivas. Based on the order, S Hemachandran, Development Commisssioner on 15 April 2002, asked Chief Engineer, APWD to take immediate action and expedite the project.
When Chief Engineer, APWD sought the possession of the land for construction of the Yatri Nivas, annoyed by the order, on 28 November 2002, Director of Shipping Services  informed the Chief Engineer, APWD that the land was presently under dispute governed by the High Court order of strict ban on new construction. DSS also enclosed a copy of the court order for reference.
Despite the court order, Bishnu Pada Ray even got a Union Minister to lay the foundation stone at the site. The building has not been constructed at the site. But, Fisheries Survey of India went ahead and constructed its office.
On the outset, it seems to be a simple case, but most of the politicians involved had an axe to grind. Ultimately, it is the children of Port Blair, who lost a beautiful playground, which, if developed properly could have provide an alternate to Gymkhana ground.
The lame administration and shrewd political interferences have already paralysed development of sports in these Islands and any hope of its revival will need enormous will power and nerve.

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