In a space-starved Mumbai, more than 11,000 sqm of land earmarked as open space has been encroached upon in the D-Ward – which houses areas such as Grant road, Charni road and Malabar hill – a survey by NGO Nagar has revealed.
This encroachment amounts to an area greater than that of two football fields placed end-to-end. In terms of the number of encroachments, L-Ward, which covers the Kurla region, has registered the maximum with 80 of it 139 open spaces subject to residential or commercial encroachment.
The survey by Nagar (formerly known as Citispace) compares the reservation allotted to plots under the Development Plan (DP) of 1991 to the Existing Land Use (ELU) survey conducted by the BMC. Most owners of structures built on encroached land, however, seem unaware of any irregularity.
“This land has been passed on in my family for the last 50 years. It belongs to us.” said 52-year-old Samson D’Souza, who owns a garage in an encroached space on Charni road. The plot near Hinduja College has been reserved as a playground in the DP, but all that exists here is a line of garages and gaming centres.
Raj Pujare, 34, who owns a gaming centre here, said: “These garages park their vehicles across the entire road, making it near impossible for the public to commute within the street. But we had no idea this was supposed to be a playground.”
While chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ promise to double the open space accessible to every city resident had raised hopes, civic officials state the way to achieve it is by creating new open spaces, as retrieving encroached plots is difficult.
“There is nothing that can be done to retrieve encroached open spaces unless the DP department and slum rehabilitation authority (SRA) come to an agreement,” said an official from the L-Ward (Kurla).
Many of the ‘encroachers’ have lived in their houses for decades.
“After living here our entire lives, it will be impossible to start all over again,” said 68-year-old Laxmi Hankare, who has lived in a slum in Rahul Nagar for the last 40 years. “I have carried mud from the Chunabatti station with my own hands to build this shelter.”
Activists blame the civic body for the state of affairs. “If grounds are encroached in this manner, the standards of living in Mumbai will become deplorable,” said Neera Punj, the Convenor of Nagar. “The BMC is clearly not doing enough.”