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Govt stand puts fate of open spaces in limbo

mumbai Updated: Aug 18, 2016 23:50 IST
Sanjana Bhalerao
Sanjana Bhalerao
Hindustan Times

Acting on Fadnavis’ initial orders, the BMC took over 120 of the 216 plots from private organisations(HT File Photo)

Civic authorities still seem to be clueless about maintenance of gardens in the city.

Six months after ordering the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to take back 216 open spaces that had been ‘adopted’ by private organisations, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ government had changed its stance in July and said it was okay to hand over the plots to private organisations. Despite the announcement, BMC is yet to receive a written confirmation on the next course of action which has resulted in a question mark over the maintenance of the remaining green spaces in the city.

“We do not know yet if the administration will take back the remaining plots or not,” said an officer.

Acting on Fadnavis’ initial orders, the BMC took over 120 of the 216 plots from private organisations. There are 96 plots remaining in the possession of private owners or NGOs. Moreover, the civic body has also appointed 21 contractors to undertake the maintenance of 237 open spaces for a period of three years for Rs 243 crore.

“We have already issued work orders to contractors to maintain the gardens and playgrounds that have been taken back; we cannot abruptly cancel the contracts now. We can only terminate it if the open spaces are not maintained or if they do not follow the rules. There will be clarity only when orders come from the state,” said a civic official.

Due to a change in the Maharashtra government’s stance on the open space policy, within six months of the initial announcement, the future of the few remaining green spaces is in limbo.

“Due to this flip-flop attitude of the government, there is absolutely no clarity over the policy. After its initial stance, the government seems to be against the order,” said an official on condition of anonymity.

“This has led to a policy vacuum and some people are taking the benefit. Yet again, the open spaces will not be maintained and there is no one to monitor it,” said Nayana Katpalia, NAGAR coordinator.

Following relentless campaigns by citizen groups, the controversial caretaker policy (which would have restricted the citizens’ access to open spaces) was stayed in 2007. BMC had tabled a new policy last year, which had controversial clauses that would have resulted in preferential treatment of some groups.

Amid the fracas over the new open space policy, Fadnavis had ordered the civic body to take back the 216 leased plots from various organisations and review the policy.

An activist, on condition of anonymity, said, “This announcement is nothing more than pleasing the politicians who maintain the gardens in the city.” There are many open spaces in the city that are maintained by the ruling Shiv Sena-BJP government. St Xavier’s ground, Swatantraya Veer Sawarkar Udyan and Poisar Gymkhana, Aarey Bhaskar at Goregaon and Dahisar Sports Foundation, among others, are some of them.

Flip-flop of the BJP since the policy was introduced

The Open Space policy- Shiv-Sena- BJP had not once but thrice had a chance in the BMC to review the policy and take people’s views into consideration. Instead, the ruling alliance approved the policy in the general body.

After approving the policy in the improvements committee in November last year and extending its support to Sena in the general body meeting on January 13, BJP did a U-turn and targeted the Sena for approving the controversial policy with the Congress.

After facing strong criticism from activists, BJP tried to play savior for the city’s open spaces and asked chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to intervene.

Soon after, the chief minister asked municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta to take back the 216 plots from the private entities and review the policy.

BJP MLA from Bandra, Ashish Shelar had then demanded that the CM makes maintenance of open spaces BMC’s obligatory duty, instead of allowing private bodies to maintain them.

In the latest move, the CM had gone back to support maintenance of the gardens by the private entities.

Where Mumbai Stands

Average open space – 1.24 square meter per person

Island City – 1.51 sq m pp

Eastern Suburbs – 1.09 sq m pp

Western Suburbs – 1.18 sq m pp