The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has recovered 34 of 36 open spaces by January 28 on the basis of a notice issued on the 18th of that month.
But the battle for Mumbai’s green lungs is far from over.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had ordered the taking back of 200-plus open spaces—maintained by private organizations. He also asked that the new open spaces policy be reviewed.
The BMC intends to outsource maintenance of these playgrounds and recreation areas to private organizations and corporate entities.
This has been opposed by activists who believe that it is the BMC’s responsibility to support these open spaces. They are of the opinion that parcelling out upkeep of these facilities leaves the door open to misuse of these open spaces as in the past when they were used to generate income via commercial activities.
The municipal body, however, claims that maintaining open spaces is not an obligatory function.
The BMC’s new open spaces bill tabled and passed in its assembly hopes to improve on the previous caretaker policy.
Seema Kamdar of First Post writes:
“After all, as the corporation says, taking care of the open spaces does not fall under its obligatory roster. Rather, it’s a discretionary activity, and clearly not important. All that it expects from its lessees for such spaces – also called RGPG for recreation grounds, gardens, parks and playgrounds – is a perimeter fence, a security guard and a toilet; the rest was up to its imagination.”
On the caretaker policy, Kamdar writes:
“The caretaker policy, developed in 1991, permitted construction on 15 percent of the area, such as club, gymnasia, etc. The history of the adoption and caretaker policy of Mumbai of public open spaces is criss-crossed with stories of rampant misuse, illegal construction, controlling public access or restricting their hours of free access, exploitation for commercial benefit, neglect of maintenance, poor or no security leading to encroachment and such brazen flouting of the rules.”
Sayli Udas-Mankikar writing for DNA India terms the new policy ‘draconian’.
“A draconian policy, it puts out over 1068 spaces, including parks, playgrounds and gardens spanning over 1200 acres, roughly the size of 588 international football pitches, up for adoption. Some of these are sadly fated to become ‘clubs’ under a special clause.”
“There is no explanation to why the BMC, the richest corporation in the country, which has set aside Rs200-crore for maintaining open spaces — calculations show it comes to Rs36 lakh per plot — cannot maintain these little patches of green.
What is disheartening is the cavalier attitude of public representatives, who will be knocking on our doors for votes during the 2017 BMC elections exactly a year later. The Shiv Sena, which is putting up a fight to open up the Mahalaxmi race course as a public park, has been at the forefront of clearing this policy. The BJP sold a pup to the citizens by first agreeing to rework the policy, and then did a volte face to back the Sena. The opposition merely took to photo-ops a day later as a mark of protest.
The BMC gives feeble arguments to justify the policy. Without any defined objective, it favours private entities to qualify as adopters over the more desirable local community organisations. The selection committee itself has no citizen-representative or an expert to veto the administrative proposals. Issues like greening missions, sport, women’s safety, heritage, local culture and multi-use of spaces do not even find a mention. This does not behove a city with global aspirations.”
The new open spaces policy envisages placing the caretaker bodies under the Right To Information (RTI) act thus making them accountable to the general public.
Right to Information (RTI) expert Shailesh Gandhi said, “This is not an open space policy, but kidnapping policy.”
Shailesh Gaekwad writes for Hindustan Times:
“It would make more sense for the citizen groups to now demand that the maintenance of open spaces be included among the obligatory duties of the BMC and of course a policy which favours the citizens, not politicians and moneybags.”
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