• Benny Kuriakose

The Story Behind Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium

When I left Baker in February 1985 after nine months of learning from him, I thought I should learn about the other side of architecture too. I decided to go to Delhi and Raj Rewal was reigning supreme at that time. Asiad Village, Hall of States in Pragati Maidan, DDA Towers etc. were some of the prime projects he had already done. Also, he was shortlisted as one of the architects for designing the Prime Minister’s residence.

I landed up in his office one day morning in Defence Colony, Delhi and he has a handsome private secretary. Forgot his name, found out that he was a Malayalee and as per his advise, waited at the lobby. After an hour or so, Raj Rewal landed up and I walked up to him and told that I want to work with you. He did a brief interview at the lobby itself. He decided to take me, maybe seeing my enthusiasm, also the fact that I have worked with Laurie Baker. Since I was interested in conservation and traditional architecture, he suggested that I work on the documentation of traditional buildings. He was doing an exhibition for the Festival of India Paris at that time, in which Padmanabhapuram Palace, Adalaj stepwell etc. were included. Prof. Kallyat Thazhathveetil Ravindran (everybody calls him KT and he always remained as a good friend, advisor and guiding force since then) was assisting Raj Rewal on this exhibition on Paris. He was unmarried at that time and was teaching in School of Planning and Architecture as an Assistant Professor. He had a separate office cum residence in Defence Colony itself with two young architects Vimal and Badri. I have 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. Saw many modern and historic buildings during the short trips. Crafts Museum designed by Charles Correa was one of them. I realised that this is not the place 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.

Life again became a question mark for me. I never thought that I will be able to design even a 300 square feet small house. I accidentally happen 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 whether I can take up the design of their houses. I took it as a challenge. Forget about the design, I have never drafted anything on a butter sheet or tracing sheet till then. I never touched the Rotring pen till that time. I used a graph sheet to draw the designs of the initial houses. I used to take them to Sri Laurie Baker and show him for advice. He will tell many corrections and I learnt tremendously in this process. The first house I have designed was in Kottayam which was for Prof PC John, is an arch-shaped house. 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. I never had to look back in my career since then.

My Kerala Law College Fees Receipt

In 1985, the Government of Kerala headed by then Chief Minister Sri Karunakaran decided to reconstruct the Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium by increasing its capacity from 10000 to 35000. This was done without any proper plans. As per the proposal, an 80 feet high gallery (as tall as 8 stories high) is to be constructed all around the stadium. The interest was not to promote sports, but there was a hidden agenda that three floors of shopping spaces can be created and it will become prime real estate. Chalai, which is the traditional market was losing its importance and the city is growing more towards the north. So Palayam was getting more importance as a real estate area.

Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, Poetess Sugatha Kumari, Laurie Baker and a whole lot of others came out against this proposal. K Govindankutty, Bureau Chief, wrote a nice piece in Indian Express titled “Concrete Disfigurement of the City’s Open Spaces”. Quoting from his press report, “In a fit of philistinism, some ministers have decided to disfigure the face of Trivandrum by building a monstrous concrete enclosure for a stadium gallery right in the city centre.” Sri P Aravindakshan carried an article titled “Choking the Heart Valve” in The Week magazine. Binoo K John and Venu Menon wrote articles supporting the movement in Sunday Magazine and Illustrated Weekly respectively. The so-called sports persons supported the stadium without knowing the hidden agenda and did a Jatha from Palayam to East Fort. Chief Minister declared that the Stadium will be constructed at any cost. whoever objected to the proposal.

The Stadium is owned by the Police Department and the construction started in the name of Kerala Police Sports and Youth Welfare Society. Inspector General of Police Sri Madhusudhanan (the famous Rajan case fame who later became the Director-General of Police) was the Chairman of the society. The Government Order regarding the Gallery was dated 1st July 1985. The Society was registered on 22nd July 1985 for the construction of the Gallery only. There was no permission taken from the Trivandrum Development Authority as required by law. KV Sankaranarayanan who was the Chairman of the TDA wrote to the Chief Secretary Sri V Ramachandran, but all of them were silenced saying that this was the decision of six Ministers. There was no parking space and there were no toilets, a blatant violation of the building rules. The famous architect, Charles Correa has made a master plan for the development of the Palayam area and he has suggested pedestrianising the Main Street and development of the shops etc. This stadium proposal sabotaged the whole plan prepared by Charles Correa. He had suggested an underground market to decongest the area, while this proposal increased the traffic leaps and bounds.

But, after some time, all the protests died down. As usual in many projects, the authorities took a loan of Rs. 2 Crores from Toddy Workers Welfare Fund to start the construction. Many trees around the Stadium was cut and the construction was progressing with the full support of the Government and the Police. The protest died down and none of the newspapers carried out any campaign against the construction.

Since I was jobless at that time, I decided to go deeper into the issues and I found that it is highly damaging to the city and its open spaces. My friend in the Town Planning Department Banasree Mitra (Banerjee) who was a Senior Town Planner in the Town Planning Department helped me. I met Dr.Srinivasan who was the Executive Director of NATPAC (National Transportation Planning and Research Centre) at his office in Srikanteswaram. He told me that it is wrong to go ahead with the proposal and his hands are tied. I met Sri Govindan Kutty and many others, who all supported me. There were a lot of individuals who supported me with information. I had similar research done for another project when there was a proposal to build a Convention Complex in Putharikandam Maidan in 1982. My friend Sri Krishna Kumar filed a case in the court and it was stalled. The first time, I met Sri Laurie Baker was when I went along with Sri Krishnakumar to get Laurie Baker’s opinion on this.

Finally, I decided to file a Public Interest Litigation and I met one of mentors Prof. MK Prasad, who spearheaded the fight to conserve the Silent Valley forests. I have travelled with him for 14 days across all districts in Kerala as part of a campaign against deforestation by Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad. Prof. Prasad told me to meet Sri Balagangadhara Menon, Senior Advocate and freedom fighter with the details. He was very sincere and dedicated and did not receive any professional charges from me. His daughter Usha and son-in-law Dr.Venu Gopal became my close friends much later. With his help, a petition was filed in the high court. The OP No. of the case is 8383 of 1985. The respondents were the Chief Secretary of the State, Secretary, Trivandrum Development Authority, Mayor, City of Trivandrum and Chairman, Kerala Sports and Youth Welfare Society. Our main arguments were as follows;

1. There is very little open space available in the city. The land under parks and open spaces form only one per cent of the area of the city and work out to only 0.41 acre for 1000 people of population. According to certain research studies, Trivandrum had much less open space when compared with cities such as Madras, Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad, Bombay, Mysore, Ahmedabad etc. A sports stadium of international standards needs to come on the outskirts of the city, where proper parking and other facilities can be provided.

2. The road width is not sufficient to handle such large traffic to the Stadium. The main arterial road known as Mahatma Gandhi road accounted for 23 per cent of the intra-city trips and 21 per cent of the inter-city trips in the city and the Stadium happens to abut this road. The road space available is already less than 50 per cent of what is required to handle this traffic, while near the stadium, the deficiency is 68 per cent. 35 per cent of the total traffic accidents in the city occurred in MG Road.

3. There was a Detailed Town Planning Scheme for the area under consideration. The construction of the Gallery violates this scheme which was approved by the Government after inviting public objects. As per the existing rules, the Government has no powers to the given exemption to the Town Planning Scheme. The parking space for the existing stadium itself is very inadequate as per the building rules.

4. No proper exits have been planned by the Government and if a stampede occurs, then it will lead to the death of so many innocent people.

5. No permission or building sanction was obtained from the Trivandrum Development Authority as per the rules. The Kerala Building Rules 1984 and many other laws were violated.

6. The idea to construct shops and offices along with the stadium is completely wrong. For the Asiad stadiums in Delhi which were completed only in 1982, no commercial uses were permitted.

This was a clear case of breaking the rules by the Government itself, who are supposed to protect the interests of the citizens.

Initially, I got support from many of my friends. Initially, my name also came in the newspapers. There were people who doubted my intentions. Some people told that whatever happened to the case, Benny got a lot of publicity. Police wanted to find who is this 23-year-old Benny Kuriakose. They came to my house and my father got scared. But he stood by me, although he was in the Government service.

I was in the high court every week for the next 3 or 4 months. The government came with all kinds of defence mechanisms and had to justify why they did not follow the rules. When any counter affidavit was filed, I will study the issues raised by the Government Advocate and will run to a library to find out the arguments against the steps proposed by the Government. The case was fought purely on a professional basis.

The Government appointed a committee of experts consisting of six members (now it has become a standard practice) and it included Mr Titty George, Chief Engineer, Public Works Department, Mr Sankara Iyer, Chief Engineer, New Legislature Complex (which was under construction), Mr Narayana Iyer, Deputy Chief Engineer in charge of Designs, Mr Mathew Varghese, Chief Town Planner, Dr Srinivasan, Executive Director, NATPAC and Mr M Ramaswamy, Chief Architect who was responsible for making the drawings of the Gallery. The Committee looked into the needs of town planning and the safety of the structure etc, found everything correct. This was one of the arguments put forward by the respondents.

My advocate wanted the construction to stay which was going at a very fast space. The High Court did not give a stay, but the judge said that the case will be heard within a short span. Offers of money came through some middlemen to withdraw the case. There were a lot of pressures on my advocate also from various sides including politicians and others. But my advocate Sri Balagangadhara Menon told me that we will fight the case till the end and insist on the demolition of the gallery which is against all rules and regulations. I was also not willing to withdraw the case.

The Government realised that they are not going to win the case and none of the tricks is going to work either with me or the advocate. I was under tremendous pressure. The newspapers did not carry any news and were quiet. I was called for a compromise talk which came through the former mayor of Kochi, Mr Seshadri. I think he was also connected with the Kerala Football Association. Mr Menon and I were on one side and the other side was represented by the then IG of Police Sri Madhusudhanan and some other police officials. To our surprise, we found that the Government was willing to correct the mistakes it had committed. They were willing to do this to save their face and consequences which will lead to the demolition of the gallery.

I wanted the construction which was going in full swing to be stopped immediately. The Police agreed to demolish the buildings behind the MLA quarters which were the police quarters to provide for the parking. They agreed to construct adequate toilets. I told that space underneath shall never be used for any commercial purposes and only for any use connected with the sports and stadium. One more clause of the agreement was that the roads shall be widened as per the Town Planning Scheme. One area where we conceded to the Government side was that we did not insist on the demolition of the construction which was around 40% done.

The case was not withdrawn and my advocate told the High Court that a consensus was reached between the petitioner and the respondents. The court in its final judgement recorded the consensus and ruled the following;

1. The flyover to be built in the next one year. 2. More parking to be provided for the stadium by demolishing some quarters building. 3. The space under the gallery to be used only for sports-related activities and not even for the offices of the Police department. 4. The construction of the gallery should not continue and should be stopped immediately. 5. The width of the roads shall be increased.

None of the newspapers covered the story of the High Court judgement also. The opposition was so powerful that they could control the media fully.

Construction of the gallery was stopped immediately as per the High Court's judgement and the stadium was in an unfinished stage for many years. The flyover was built in one year. The parking to the stadium was added by demolishing some of the buildings. The road widening was carried out by the government, but by reducing the footpath widths. The space under the gallery was unused for a very long time.

After more than 30 years, the whole space under the gallery is now being used for commercial purposes. This is against the high court judgement and is contempt of court. The space under the gallery is being used as “auditorium” for book fairs and textile fairs. The stadium is used for award ceremonies rather than for sports activities.

The flyover by the side of Chandrasekharan Nair stadium came because of this legal battle. As per the original plans, the gallery was supposed to come on the other side also and it was cantilevering into the road. I was able to save such a concrete monstrous structure coming up in the heart of the city. In all the other stadiums constructed in Kerala, whether it is in Kollam, Kottayam or Kannur, the space below the gallery was used for commercial purposes. All the stadium cum shopping complex constructed in the state was a failure. This might be true regarding the bus stand cum shopping complex. Already the traffic is increasing exponentially and in addition, the commercial activities will also increase the congestion. Even after 25 years, we are not learning from the mistakes in the past. I could prevent this commercial use happening under the gallery of the Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium.

This might be one of the rare cases where the Government entered into a consensus with an individual and the High Court recorded it as a judgement on a Public Interest Litigation case. We find that some of the Litigants are fined by the court. This example shows that if a Public Interest Litigation case is filed after doing proper homework, there is a very good chance of winning the case.

But the trouble and the tension I went through (the respondents were the police), I decided that I will never fight a similar battle.

Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium, Trivandram

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Copyright © Benny Kuriakose