CONSERVATION- PLANNING AND PRACTICES ASSIGNMENT THE OLD RAILWAY STATION AND MANGALAVANAM BIRD SANCTUARY ERNAKULAM, KERALA From Glory to Decay
In the heart of the cityof Ernakulam, Kerala,there is a 22 acre landand an abandoned oldrailway station alongwith a two hectaremangrove wetlandbird sanctuary rightnext to it
This was the first railway station of Ernakulam or Kochi, built in 1902, by the Maharaja.Mangalavanam: ‘green lung of Kochi
In the 1905-30s the image on the left would betotally different. The patch of land up toShanmugham Road was nonexistent.Shanmugham Road ran next to thebackwaters- a mud road.
The market area is busy with activities andthere was an inland water canal that linked themarket to various other districts through whichgoods were transported in boats- the canalnow is highly polluted and acts as a stagnantdrainage. The location for the railway stationwas originally selected because it ran close tothe market. A boat jetty was also situated closeby from where people could travel toMattancherry and Vypeen.When it was a popular haunt for people, therewas a coffee shop run by Spencers at thisrailway station. There was no electricity thosedays, so the shop and platform was lighted upby petromax lamps.
The Tale of a Rail, a King and his CrownRama Raja XV • British Rail line from Madras to Malabar • Raja tried to extend to Kochi • British not interested • HH invested Royal money, sold land, ornaments- also public private partnership-people invested. Help of Dewan Rajagopalachari • Rail line and station built • British not happy • Raja abdicated (‘mentally unstable’)
When train services started by Cochin State RailwayService in 1902, thousands of people used it.There were only 3-4 regular trains in this route, onetrack and a circular track for the trains to turn.The train comprised of only six or sevencoaches, mostly made out of wood with steel frames. There were three separate classes and had a totalcapacity of around two hundred passengers.The third class was always crowded since they werecheaper than the rest.
When the Cochin Port developed, it became imperative to extend the railway track right up to the harbour. By 1929 the present station, south of Ernakulam, came up. The track was later extended to the Harbour in 1943. Thus the Ernakulamterminus finally lost its significance. Till the early sixties, the old railway station catered to passenger traffic. The Ernakulam Terminus Station was later renamed Ernakulam Railway Goods Station, and still later it was abandoned altogether.
• Mangalavanam, though a part of the Railways land, was not built on considering that it was a marshy area. The place was undisturbed and thus in the thick mangrove forest, birds started nesting and every year it saw a huge flock of migratory birds coming to nest here. The tidal flows from Kochi backwaters helped the marshy ecosystem.• Even when the station was abandoned, Mangalavanam acted as a haven for migratory birds. It was called ‘green lung of Kochi. It is bordered by Arabian Sea. A survey conducted in 2006 revealed that there were 194 birds belonging to 32 species, six species of mammals, two species of amphibians, 17 species of butterflies and seven species of fishes. A shallow tidal lake bordered with this thick mangrove vegetation is connected to the Cochin backwaters by a canal.
• In 1980s, Greater Cochin Development Authority reclaimed land from Kochi backwaters and Marine Drive was developed. Since coastal regulations did not permit it, it did not become a Marine ‘Drive’, but a Marine walk way. The marine drive area development is one-sided in favour of high rises. Ideally the master plan should have been a mix of green belts, open grounds and multi-storied car parking besides high rises. But the real estate mafia divided the land amongst themselves. The land along this stretch is hugely priced, and the city guidelines permitting the height to be 13 storeys, high rise structures have been built throughout the stretch.• Before 2000, the islands of Bolghatty, Vallarpadam and Vypeen had to be accessed by ferry service, through inland water ways. But in 2000s Goshree bridges were built connecting the islands, causing land values there also to sky rocket. This increased the revenue of GCDA to a great extent as GCDA and Corporation own a large chunk of reclaimed land in the Marine drive area, in Bolghatty and Vypeen. The ferry service is almost dying, with only a few common people using it as this mode is very cheap.• The Kochi International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT), locally known as the Vallarpadam Terminal, a container trans-shipment facility was conceived and the first phase of this was built in 2011, the construction activities have huge construction equipments like cranes frequently lifting up and down in Vallarpadam, just 200 m from the Mangalavanam and Naval helicopters, jets and surveillance airborne vehicles fly around over the area.• Another new construction is the multi storey high court structure. All these construction activities, high rises etc. caused the bird sanctuary to die out and now it is just a chunk of land with waste heaped over it, no birds nesting and the marsh is also highly polluted with all kinds of oil spills and wastes being dumped into the backwaters.
Image of the mangrove forest and proposal for a new housing complex next to it.
ANALYSISThe relocation of the main railway station was done because there was a need to extend the railway line to the Port. But instead of crowdingthe new railway station and congesting the city, the old railway station and its beautiful colonial structures could have still been used for passenger trains. In fact Railways have proposals to carry out various development projects such as setting up a Railway Medical College, Para Medical College and Suburban railway terminal. But doing these entirely new structures will again disturb the area and the need for aRailway Medical College in this location is unjustified. The Railways hasplans to start a suburban railway service from here to the suburbs. This can work well, as the travelling time of public could be reduced by 20- 25 minutes if such a train service was started. The existing rail and platform could be modified with minimum cost to operate suburban train services. It could build additional platform and otherinfrastructural facilities without resorting to land acquisition. But therehas been no progress in this direction; on the other hand Railways have resorted to cutting down age old trees in the site, and neglecting the station building which is covered with overgrown vegetation.
ANALYSISThe reclamation of land and construction of high rises were attempts to increase land area and thus give housing to more people. But as the players which include the builder mafia, the Corporation, GCDA and Government tried to increase their own revenue, the flats in the areahave become unaffordable to common people. The flats in the area cost minimum Rs.45 lakh whereas most people in the city have an income below Rs50,000 a month. The cost per sq. ft works out to be between Rs4500 and Rs5000. The land value has gone up in the nearby islands causing unaffordability there also, and people have started moving out of the area. The livelihood of the people in these islands was mainlyfishing. This has gone down as fish die due to the oil spills and pollution. And people are asked to move out by builders so that they can own huge chunks of land in the overpriced areas. The construction of Vallarpadam terminal and the railway line from this to Edappally has caused massive construction and land acquisition. The "bird sanctuary" at Mangalavanam is already dead for all practical purposes.
In fact people who have migrated from other areas to the cityare not even aware of the Old railway station or the birdsanctuary. Neglect and development without vision hascaused the decay of both these areas. A conservation planwhich includes the restoration of the station and revival of thebird sanctuary can be worked out, even though for the birdsanctuary, it may be already too late. But this needs publicwill, government initiative, awareness and participation toachieve a common goal.