In a major setback to the Bhau Daji Lad museum, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) dismissed plans to add extensions to it. In the recently released Development Plan (DP) 2034, the area around the museum has been marked as a garden/park, indicating that no new construction will be allowed there, said senior civic officials.
In 2014, the BMC had announced that a new wing would be added to the northern flank of the city’s oldest museum. The project was to be completed with third-party funding and monetary assistance by the BMC. However, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) attacked the plans, alleging that the playground next to the museum would be usurped to be used as a parking lot and a landscaped area.
While the BMC had allocated Rs40 crore for the project in its 2015 budget, it was slashed to Rs15 crore in the amended budget. In 2016, the museum found no mention in the civic budget. The current demarcation in the DP is clear indication of the administration’s intentions. The DP, the 20-year blueprint for the city was recently released for public scrutiny. The revised plan does not permit any construction in gardens and playgrounds.
“The open ground will remain as it is, with no new construction permitted. Even the plans for the extension have been cancelled. The museum had sent objections on the DP but we have overruled it,” said a senior civic official.
The museum is owned by the BMC. In 2003, it got into a tripartite agreement with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and Jamanalal Bajaj Foundation for its restoration. However, civic corporators have been at loggerheads with the museum director over its functioning for a long time now.
According to Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, the museum had sent suggestions on the DP to demarcate the land meant for the extension. They had asked for the museum plaza to be marked specifically. However, it has not been done in the plan, Mehta said.
“Political parties made up the idea that we would convert the open space into a parking lot. It is not correct on the BMC’s part to cancel the plan. I wanted to undertake the project for the city’s benefit, but now the plan is ruined because of politics,” she said.
The museum’s expansion plans became a political controversy after parties such as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and MNS stated that the BMC should take complete control over the museum’s functioning. They called for Mehta’s ouster, alleging that she had made the institution ‘elite’ and denied access to common people.
The MNS had conducted a referendum on the ground, held protests against the Lakme Fashion Week to be held at its premises and also suggested alternate designs. The BMC recently has also sent a show-cause notice to the museum on ‘administrative lapses.’