You may have seen or heard about litigants being fined for improper filing of PILs (Public Interest Litigation). However, this story of Chandrasekaran Nair Stadium shows that PILs (Public Interest Litigation), when done properly, have the potential to yield fruitful results for the common people.
I believe that it would be appropriate to begin the story from 1985 when I decided to leave Laurie Baker and explore the other side of architecture. I travelled to Delhi in the hopes of working with Raj Rewal. I landed up in his office one day morning in Defence Colony, Delhi and his private secretary (who was also a Malayalee) asked me to wait in the lobby. After an hour or so, Raj Rewal came into the office, I walked up to him and told that I wanted to work with him. He did a brief interview at the lobby itself. He decided to take me, maybe because of seeing my enthusiasm, and also the fact that I had worked with Laurie Baker might have helped.
Since I was interested in the conservation and the traditional architecture of India, he suggested that I work on the documentation of traditional buildings. He was doing an exhibition for the Festival of India that was happening in Paris. Monuments like Padmanabhapuram Palace, Adalaj stepwell etc. were included in the exhibition. I was teamed up with Prof. Kallyat Thazhathveetil Ravindran (everybody called him KT and he always remained a good friend, advisor and guiding force) was assisting Raj Rewal on this exhibition in Paris. He was unmarried at that time and was teaching at The School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi as an Assistant Professor.
He had a separate office cum residence in Defence Colony with two young architects Vimal and Badri. I had never learnt any drafting work with Baker and perhaps that was the only work I could do in the new office. I went to the office every day for two or three weeks sitting idle, chatting with Vimal and Badri. I was able to see many modern and historic buildings during the short trips. Crafts Museum designed by Charles Correa was one of them and it changed something in me. I realised that this was not for me and decided to return to Kerala.
KT told me to receive the first-month salary and then leave, but I did not wait even for that. I came back almost immediately. Life again became a question mark for me. I thought that I will not be able to design even a 300 square feet small house. I happened to meet the retired Supreme Court Judge Sri VR Krishna Iyer and at that time he was doing a project on Environmental Law. This was more or less a novel idea at that time and in India, the environmental laws were taking shape. I wanted to work on this project, but somehow it did not work out. But it prompted me to take a degree in law and become specialised on the urban planning issues. I applied for a seat in the Law Academy, Trivandrum. The interview was carried out in a building in Punnen Road, not in the main college campus. I joined as a law student in 1985.
Meanwhile, many of my friends and their friends asked me to take up the design of their houses. I took it as a challenge. Forget about the design, I had never drafted anything on a butter sheet or tracing sheet till then. I had never touched the Rotring pen before that. I used a graph sheet to draw the designs of the initial houses. I used to take them to Sri Laurie Baker for advice. He used to tell many corrections and I learnt tremendously in this process. The first house that I designed was for Prof PC John, in Kottayam. It was is an arch-shaped house and hence, the name of the house itself was given as “The Ark”. He was introduced to me by Krishna Kumar, whose house I designed a few months later. After that, I never had to look back in my career.
During the same period, the Kerala Government had announced the reconstruction of Chandrasekaran Nair Stadium (also known as Police Stadium by the locals) to increase the seating capacity from 10000 to 35000. As per the proposal, an 80 feet high gallery (as tall as 8 stories) was to be constructed all around the stadium. Sadly, the public did not know that the reconstruction was only a screen to hide the real intentions of the Government.
The actual plan was to exploit the growing real estate scene of the region by building three floors of commercial complex in it. The gallery was supposed to be cantilevered onto both sides of the road. Even though this may bring benefits, it would greatly increase the traffic in the area. Additionally, it destroys Charles Correa’s master plan which suggested pedestrianizing the main street and moving the markets underground to avoid congestion.
Some minds like K Govindan Kuty (bureau chief), Binoo K John, Venu Menon, understood the issues and opposed them through several mediums. Despite protests and clear building code violation (Kerala Building Rules 1984), the Government approved the construction on 1st July 1985, that too without permission from the Trivandrum Development Authority. Soon after this, the protests died down and the construction began.
Further investigation led me to discover the adverse effects it will have on the city. After several discussions with executives from The Town Planning Department, and The National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC), I was clear on what had to be done next. I wanted to file a Public Interest Litigation against the project. Before going ahead, I had meetings with my mentor Prof. M K Prasad, who spearheaded the “Save the Silent Valley” movement in 1973.
He introduced me to Sri. Balagangadhara Menon, a senior advocate, and freedom fighter. With his help, we filed a petition in the high court. The OP No. of the case was 8383 of 1985. The respondents were The Chief Secretary of State, The Secretary of State, the Trivandrum Development Authority, the Mayor of Trivandrum City, and the Chairman of Kerala Sports and Youth Welfare Society. We knew that the opposition would be strong, and we were prepared for it. Our main arguments were as follows:
1. According to certain research studies, Trivandrum had much less open space compared with Madras, Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad, Bombay, Ahmedabad, etc. The lands allocated for parks and open spaces formed only one percent of the area, which worked out to be 0.41 acres for 1000 people. Therefore, a sports stadium of international standards should come up on the outskirts of the city, where proper parking and other facilities can be provided.
2. The stadium abuts Mahatma Gandhi road, a main arterial road that accounted for 35% of the total road accidents in the city. Consequently, it carries 23% of intra-city and 21%of inter-city traffic. Such a road that already had 50% less space would now become 68% deficient near the stadium. Therefore, the road width was not sufficient to handle huge traffic coming to the stadium.
3. A Detailed Town Planning Scheme was under consideration for the area. As per the rules, the Government had no power to exempt Town Planning Schemes.
4. The Kerala Building Rules 1984 and many laws were violated as well. Also, no permission or building sanction was obtained from the Trivandrum Development Authority.
5. As per the building rules, parking space for the existing stadium is inadequate. Further, no proper exits had been planned for people to evacuate safely during disasters.
6. The idea to construct shops and offices within a stadium is a failed concept. For example, the permission for the construction of commercial spaces was not given to the Asiad Stadium in Delhi that was completed three years ago in 1982. Why should Chandrasekaran Nair Stadium be any different?
Clearly, the Government that was supposed to protect its citizens had broken the rules themselves. The case went on for the next three to four months. The opposition came up with numerous explanations as to why they had violated the laws. After every argument, I would study at libraries and form counterarguments. During this time, my family, advocate Balaangadhara Menon, and myself received various threats and bribery offers. We never accepted them and fought in the utmost ethical way.
Then, the Government appointed a committee (which is standard practice now) of six experts namely Mr. Titty George (Chief Commissioner, Public Works Department), Mr. Sankara Iyer (Chief Engineer for the New Legislature complex that was under construction), Mr. Narayana Iyer (Deputy Chief Engineer in charge of Design), Mr. Mathew Varghese (Chief Town Planner), Dr. Srinivasan (Executive Director of NATPAC), and Mr. M Ramaswamy (Chief Architect). The committee looked into the needs of the Town Planning Department, the safety of the structure, etc, and found no errors.
The threats and bribery attempts kept increasing for both the advocate and myself. But, we were determined and fought on steadily. By then, the Government had realized that they were not on the winning side and called for a compromise. The negotiations took place with Mr. Menon and myself on one side and police Officials on the other. It was carried out by Mr. M. Seshadri, Former Mayor of Kochi. To our surprise, we found that the Government was willing to correct their its mistakes. They were determined to save face and decrease the consequences that might lead to the demolition of the gallery.
Finally, it ended when the police supported our decision to provide ample car parking, adequate toilets, and widen the road as per the Town Planning scheme. They also agreed to use the space only for sports purposes. We conceded on the area of demolition as 40% of the construction was completed at that time. The advocate informed the high court that we had reached a consensus. Therefore, the court recorded the agreement and gave out its final judgement as follows:
1. The flyover to be built in the next year.
2. More parking to be provided for the stadium by demolishing some of the police quarters.
3. The space under the gallery to be used only for sports-related activities.
4. The construction of the gallery to be stopped immediately.
5. The width of the road to be increased as per the guidelines from the Town Planning Department.
This final judgement never made it to the public. However, construction was stopped immediately and it stayed unfinished for many years. The flyover was built in the next year and roads were widened too. Parking was added after demolishing some of the buildings in the police quarters. The space under the stadium also remained vacant for many years.
So, this may be one of those rare cases where the Government had consented with an individual and the high court recorded it as a judgement. Things remained the same for more than 30 years, until recently, when the space under the stadium was used as an “auditorium” and as commercial complexes. The auditorium at Chandrasekaran Nair stadium is used for award ceremonies and not sports activities. This is in contempt of court and is against the high court judgement.
After going though knowing all this, I, Benny Kuriakose, had decided not to fight battles like this again as I experienced immense stress and tension. Moreover, people do not seem to learn from past mistakes. Other stadiums in Kollam, Kottayam, and Kannur had combined their stadiums with bus stands or commercial complexes, which led to increasing traffic over the years. I was able to stop one such error blunder at Chandrasekaran Nair Stadium, but that is not enough. A significant change can happen when people understand the concept of urban planning and make better choices for future generations.