Parks which are considered the lungs of a city or town are getting choked in Jorhat in the murky labyrinths of politics.
Let us begin with the Kabita Kanan Ganesh Gogoi Park. For more than a week now, darkness has descended on this Park.
The power to the brightly lit Park at the Doss and Co Chari Ali has been disconnected courtesy the Assam Power Distribution Company Limited.
The Park is a defaulter to the tune of more than Rs 1.30 lakh. The bills are in fact made out in the name of Ganesh Gogoi Park.
An official of Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) said that Rs 19500, a portion of the last bill, the total of which had amounted to Rs 28863 dated November 4, 2013 was paid by the then Jorhat MP Bijoy Krishna Handique of the Congress. Sources informed Northeast Now that part of that bill had been paid by businessman Makhan Gattani.
The bills were given to Handique as the Park had been built by District Rural Development Authority with an allocation of Rs 10 lakh from the MP’s funds and was inaugurated on November 11, 2009 by the then Congress Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.
In 2014, BJP MP Kamakhya Prasad Tasa came to power. And Handique died soon after.
No one knows, APDCL included, to whom the subsequent bills were delivered to or if they were issued at all.
If there was a committee, it is now non-existent.
The power was disconnected and the park went to seed with the demise of Handique. The reins of governance had now completely passed to the BJP in 2016 with Hitendra Nath Goswami being elected as MLA of Jorhat.
Enter the Jorhat Citizens Forum, comprising a few individuals who lived near the vicinity of the park and whose sole aim was to restore the glory of the park and this they did with the blessings of BJP MLA Hitendra Nath Goswami. The members shelled out money from their own pockets, cleaned up the grime from busts of poet Ganesh Gogoi and Harijan Bandhu Krishna Nath Sarma installed therein, trimmed the lawn, planted flowers and trees, procured lights and got the power restored in August, 2017. The park dazzled and drew crowds.
?At that point of time the bill read Rs 1.21 lakh.
Seven months later in March this year, the power was disconnected again. The Forum was too poor to pay a bill which ran into lakhs. The bill included surcharge and the permanent tax on the 15kw which the park had been allotted at inception when fountains played to a background of colored lights.
The stage has now shifted to the Millennium Park.
Constructed nearly 18 years ago with funds allotted by Goswami, who was also the MLA then, to commemorate the millennial, the park had already run into rough waters in the last year of Goswami’s term and was inaugurated by the Congress when the party came to power in 2001.
For 15 years thereafter, the park situated at the Baruah Chari Ali corner adjacent to the former ASTC bus stand, degenerated into a den of iniquity with drunks and drug addicts frequenting it after dark.
The power too was disconnected. The conical shiny copper pillar, on which was embossed Assam’s cultural landscape, turned a dirty green due to weathering.
With the advent of Goswami into the political arena again, this park has got a new lease of life with Goswami allocating Rs 10 lakh from his MLA’s fund. A committee in which Nolin Borthakur, former ASEB employee, is the secretary has raised the walls, laid sidewalks, cleaned it up and restored power.
Borthakur said that for 15 years, the Congress government did not do a single thing for the upkeep of this Park but went on to construct another.
“If this isn’t park politics, what is,” he said. Borthakur said that part of the MLA’s allocation went to pay the electricity bill after the surcharge was waived from an amount totalling Rs 44000 or thereabouts and the power has been restored.
So would the other park meet the same fate as this one had.
Goswami, who is also speaker of the Assam Assembly, said that just because Handique had built the Ganesh Gogoi Park he would not neglect it.
“I consider all parks in Jorhat as my own. I will not let what happened to the Millennium Park, happen to that park,” he vowed.
Goswami said that the Forum had contacted him and that he was trying to get the surcharge waived.
He had also formed a committee, the Ganesh Gogoi Kabita Kanan Parisalana Samiti, which included members of Citizens Forum, PP Baruah as president, Dibyajyoti Borah as secretary, Chinmaya Bharali as treasurer as well as Goswami’s long-time associate Nolin Borthakur as a member.
Borthakur, who is secretary of the Millennium Park Committee, is not hopeful that the power will be restored for the Ganesh Gogoi Park soon as the bill was huge and would need to be cleared first before being allowed to bring down the kilowatt requirement and waive the surcharge.
Members of the Forum, who were planning on laying a children’s golf course in the Ganesh Gogoi Park are wondering whether the lights they had put up and all their work has gone in vain.
Bharali said that he was dejected by the amount of time and money that he and the others had spent in cleaning up the park.
“I have swept the sidewalk, planted flowers, repaired the pump and uprooted rusted poles,” Bharali, a former engineer of ONGC said. Nothing seems to move forward here,” he added.
For the time being one will have to wait and watch whether Goswami delivers on his promise to take the Ganesh Gogoi Park under his wings or wait for a change in governance to see one park light up and the other descend to darkness.
Bhattacharyya is a Jorhat-based senior journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org