While the interim open spaces policy has gone into cold storage until the next general body is elected, which is unlikely before March 2017, citizen groups on Tuesday wrote to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis for his intervention on the controversial caretaker guidelines.
The interim policy will allow any NGO or private organisation to adopt an open space for maintenance for 11 months or till the final policy is formulated, whichever is first.
Former municipal commissioner DM Sukhtankar, retired IPS officer Julio Ribeiro, RTI activist and former chief information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi and nine other prominent citizens across the city have questioned the civic body’s move to get the interim open spaces policy for 11 months and have demanded public consultation before the policy is approved.
Citizen activists said the interim policy may amount to safeguarding interests of politicians who were in possession of public open spaces.
A committee of three civic officials will decide if an NGO or a private organisation can continue to maintain the garden, according to the guidelines. The guidelines include non-discriminatory access, free of charge entry, adherence to timings decided by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and no commercial or political activities.
Instead, the activists have demanded to get a ‘watchdog policy’ where the BMC will develop and maintain gardens while the local NGOs will supervise or keep the track of the open spaces in their area.
“The BMC has a total budget of more than Rs35,000 crore which remains unspent. It could maintain open spaces through contractors,” read the letter.
Following a strong opposition by various citizen groups, the BMC in 2007 stayed a controversial policy under which it had sought to handover open spaces to private organisations for maintenance.
Citizen groups and activists had objected, pointing out that politicians who had already taken public plots were denying access to citizens. Following an uproar, the controversial policy was stayed in 2007.
After that, there were a couple of attempts to revive the policy but citizen groups forced the state government to put it on hold because of the controversial provisions.
Hindustan Times had run a series of stories pointing out the need to make available open spaces for citizens.
Last year, the BMC tabled a new policy, which again had controversial clauses which could have resulted in preferential treatment to some groups.
Amid fracas over the new open spaces policy, Fadnavis had ordered the civic body to take back the 216 leased plots from various organisations and review the policy.
Currently, 141 plots out of the 226 have been taken back in various phases.
Citizen groups questioned the exercise. “Instead of taking back open spaces and reviewing the policy, the civic body is creating a third party interest with this new interim policy,” said Shailesh Gandhi, RTI activist.
What they wrote in the letter
The letter written to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was signed by former civic chief DM Sukthankar, former Mumbai police chief Julio Ribeiro, former MP Milind Deora, Shishir Joshi, Anjali Damania, Neelam Nijhara, Dr PK Anand, Anandini Thakoor, Debi Goenka, Mohsin Haider, Bhaskar Prabhu and Shailesh Gandhi
“Once a private party spends money on the maintenance and also given legal possession of the ground, no clauses in agreements are adequate to get the property back. Even after the period of agreement is over, parties have continued to hold on to these grounds,” wrote the citizens, objecting to the interim policy on open spaces
“Given our legal system it is nearly impossible to get anyone to vacate a property. This is borne out by the fact that BMC could not take all its open spaces back despite your (CM) order,” they said.