How Rekha, Shabana, Javed Akhtar got together to turn Mumbai’s scrapyard into mini forest | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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How Rekha, Shabana, Javed Akhtar got together to turn Mumbai’s scrapyard into mini forest

Mumbai city news: Nine citizens change a wasteland to a park with an amphitheatre and jogging track, plan to develop Irla nullah

mumbai Updated: Jul 13, 2017 10:29 IST
(From left) Lyricist Javed Akhtar, group members Sangeeta Bajpai, Ashok Pandit, Bollywood actress Rekha, architect PK Das, actress Shabana Azmi and Hema Shankar, another group member.
(From left) Lyricist Javed Akhtar, group members Sangeeta Bajpai, Ashok Pandit, Bollywood actress Rekha, architect PK Das, actress Shabana Azmi and Hema Shankar, another group member. (HT)

A two-and-half acre plot, which was once usurped by the land mafia, is now a neighbourhood park with an amphitheatre, thanks to a citizens’ group that waged an 11-year battle to rehabilitate it.

Gulmohar Area Societies Welfare Group (GASWG) in Juhu, comprising nine members, fought tooth and nail with politicians, bureaucrats, and the builders’ lobby and turned the plot into a green zone, complete with an amphitheatre, an under-construction walking path and jogging track.

The one-acre Kishore Kumar Baug, which has the amphitheatre, was merged with the iconic Kaifi Azmi Park along the Irla nullah at Vidyanidhi Marg and was inaugurated by tabla maestro Zakir Hussain in February this year.

“In 2005-06, the space was a forest area that builders had encroached upon. It soon became a den for nefarious activities. They axed over 2,000 trees and even lay a plinth for construction,” said Ashoke Pandit, film-maker and member of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), who led the effort.

Between 2005 and 2011, the group made multiple rounds of the municipal corporation and courts to save the space. The land was reserved for a garden according to the 1991 Development Plan (DP), but the builder had barred people from entering the plot.

“Bouncers appointed by the builder attacked me with a knife and stole my car, but it did not stop us,” said Pandit.

The amphitheatre at Kishore Kumar Baug in Juhu. (Pramod Thakur/HT)

After citizens collated land-record documents, the DP and evidence of violations, then assistant municipal commissioner Ramesh Pawar instructed the builder to vacate the premises. A Bombay high court order came next, which further strengthened the residents’ stand. The land was handed over to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) after this.

The group then approached then Member of Parliament (MP) and lyricist Javed Akhtar to look into the matter. “Javed sahab helped us after he heard about our efforts and allocated almost all of his MP local area development fund, amounting to Rs30 crore, to getting the land back for us to redevelop,” said Nita Bajpai, a Juhu resident and group member.

Actor and former parliamentarian Shabana Azmi joined their fight.

“I entered the scene after the residents had pushed out the land mafia. Their efforts resulted in the beautiful landmark for the city. They took all the risk, were even threatened, but got the plot vacated. It was decided that the park would be redeveloped,” Akhtar told HT.

The park was designed by conservation architect PK Das and is now maintained by the BMC. “Bootlegging, dumping of garbage, car repairs and other such activities had marred the site. The civic body got this land five years back due to the struggle of citizens,” he said. “It was merged with the Kaifi Azmi park and thousands of trees were planted.”

Today, hundreds of citizens visit the park daily. The space has been developed as an educational and interactive garden, with medicinal, aromatic and flowering plants, and mangroves along its periphery.

What the land looks like now. (HT)

The park also opened its doors to redevelop the two-kilometre Irla nullah that runs from north to the south of Juhu. “We are currently developing a cycling-cum-jogging track, which will connect to 10 bridges, cleaning the water of the nullah and will be putting up statues of Bollywood stars that have lived or are living in Juhu,” said Akhtar.

The park boasts of a number of environmental benefits

-Over 2,500 trees are present at the park

-Water purification units and a sewage treatment plant to make sure that water to the plants is not wasted and is reused

-Two composting bins for recycling the trimmed grass and converting it into manure

RESIDENTS SPEAK

“Nothing could be done by simply criticizing the authorities but citizens need to fight for their rights. It is an example of citizen movement’s victory. We know the system much better now. We have to ultimately act as a responsible citizen,” said Naveena Shetty, resident and GASWG member

“We will name the cycling-cum-jogging track as Bollywood Walk of Fame. We will install purifiers in the nullah, which will purify the water in six months,” said Sangeeta Bajpai, another member of the group, adding that they will name the nullah, Akash-Ganga.

“This city has given us much more than we can get from any other place. While there has been a huge change from Bombay to Mumbai over the years, it is our responsibility as citizens to ensure we leave behind a deep-rooted heritage for our future generations,” said Javed Akhtar, prominent lyricist and screenwriter.