This year, the municipal corporation has allotted Rs 100 crore from its budget to develop 960 acres of open spaces and playgrounds in the city.
With none of the money spent yet, it is surprising why Mayor Shubha Raul is keen to move court to lift the stay imposed by the government on the corporation’s caretaker policy in 2007.
“Why are our politicians eager to acquire those open spaces under the caretaker policy when the civic corporation has already set aside sufficient funds for developing them?” asked Neera Punj, convenor of Citispace, an NGO battling to save Mumbai’s open spaces.
Under the caretaker policy, 49 public plots — each measuring 4 acres roughly the size of four football grounds — would be given to private parties to build clubs, gymkhanas and associations.
Since November 2007, Hindustan Times has been highlighting the issue of open spaces where the civic body had decided to give away public spaces to private entities who would build clubs on them, denying access to the public.
The Rs 100 crore will be used to provide basic amenities to each garden and playground like fencing, gate security and gardener; understand the needs of the surrounding community and extra services like laying of jogging tracks.
But Raul does not seem to agree with this argument.
“There is a budget allocation for the development of open spaces. However, they are not maintained. Under the caretaker policy, these are developed and maintained well,” she said.
Standing Committee chairman Ravindra Waikar, who has developed an open space allotted to him into the luxurious Matoshree Arts and Sports Club at Jogeshwari, agrees.
“With Rs 100 crore how many gardens can we develop? The cost of developing a garden at Powai is Rs 40 crore a year.
Considering this, the civic body will be able to maintain just about 10 gardens,” he said.
But Congress corporator and Opposition leader in the BMC Rajhans Singh opposed the caretaker policy.
“This is nothing but a business. They [caretakers] charge lakhs of rupees for membership fees, beyond the common man’s reach,” he said. “If the BMC has earmarked crores of rupees for the development of playground, why do they need to adopt the caretaker policy?”
Congress MP Milind Deora said: “I am against the mayor’s decision and will meet the CM to ensure that her strategy is unsuccessful.”