A social activist from Borivli has moved the Bombay High Court against the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) controversial caretaker policy for open spaces.
Fifty-two-year-old Rajendra Thacker filed a public interest litigation (PIL) through his lawyer, Sumedha Rao, in the high court on Thursday saying the policy is a “back-door entry” for those wanting to commercially exploit open spaces.
Thacker has requested the court to facilitate the involvement of the public in the process of formulating the policy.
Hindustan Times has, since November 2007, been highlighting how private entities were misusing the 2006 caretaker policy by building clubs on open spaces but denying the public access to them.
The policy allowed open spaces to be given to private parties for development and maintenance for a minimum of 33 years. The period could be extended indefinitely.
It had also allowed the construction of clubs and restaurants on a part of the open space. The PIL says after the 2006 caretaker policy was announced, eight clubs and gymkhanas came up, backed mostly by political parties or commercial organisations.
The policy was stayed following public outcry. Thacker alleged that reviving this policy in the present form will perpetuate this trend.
The new caretaker policy says citizens’ groups will be given preference while allotting open spaces but a bidding process will be followed to ensure only the best proposals are selected.
Citizens’ groups fear the reserve price for the development of open spaces will be on the higher side making it difficult for them to bid. “It is reported that an annual maintenance expenditure will be collected from the private party. The allotment will be made to the highest bidder in contravention of the intention to allot it to citizens groups who will never be able to meet the financial criterion,” the PIL states.
Thacker sent legal notices to the corporation and the state government asking them to call for objections and suggestions from the public before finalising the policy. “Not making the draft policy available to the public defeats the intention to make the process transparent,” the PIL states.
The government plans to auction 38 cricket pitches on Oval Maidan, Cross Maidan and Azad Maidan because the present lease deeds have expired. The PIL alleges this is “one more method of depriving citizens of playgrounds, which were available at a nominal rent”.
Thacker has requested the high court to call for records and proceedings with regard to the new caretaker policy. A division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice DY Chandrachud will hear the PIL on September 30.