Shivaji Park, Central Mumbai’s most popular hangout and the centre of its culture and politics, will soon don a new look, with local residents ensuring that the ground remains an open space and that no unnecessary construction takes place on it.
The 27.91-acre maidan is the largest open space in South-Central Mumbai, and was created in 1925 by the Bombay Municipal Corporation (as it was known then).
Shivaji Park, where at least three major political parties were flagged off and which holds a central place in Maharashtra’s history, is becoming a casualty of political crossfire.
The beautification plan has met with determined opposition from political parties and citizens ever since it was conceived and a public meeting last week turned into a slugfest between the Shiv Sena, which is for the plan, and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the Congress, who are opposing it.
The ground is dear to the Sena and has been witness to every twist and turn in its tumultuous history. It also holds emotional and cultural significance for locals as many Marathi plays staged at Dadar’s Shivaji Mandir trace their roots to this ground, where popular playwrights wrote their works.
The latest face-off is over the construction of a mural near the entrance, just behind a statue of Meenatai, Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s late wife.
The revamp plan includes, apart from the mural, levelling and refilling of the ground with red earth, sprinklers, replacement of tiles at the jogging track, more trees and minor repairs of the compound wall (locally known as the katta).
“Work has begun and will take a little more than a month to be completed,” said Deputy Municipal Commissioner Kishor Kshirsagar.
When the plan was announced last year, it didn’t go down well with citizens as it involved demolishing the katta, raising its height and making seating arrangements on the ground.
“We started a signature campaign against the katta’s demolition; it is still sturdy,” said Girish Raut, secretary, Shivaji Park Vigilance Committee. The plan was reworked and the civic Standing Committee’s permission was sought in February 2009.
The first beautification proposal, drawn up in 1988, was also shot down by locals. It resurfaced in 1996 and 1997, but that too was opposed. This time, citizens made sure the civic body was leaving the ground an open space.
“We called for a public meeting last year to explain the plan to citizens. We also put up boards detailing the plan,” said Kshirsagar.
However, citizens still feel that spending Rs 6.5 crore on the beautification wasn’t required. “All we want is that the civic body keep the ground clean, safe for children and senior citizens and free of encroachments,” said Rukmini Seth, a senior citizen and regular morning walker at Shivaji Park. Citizens also demanded that the police and civic body keep a check on the drug addicts who frequent the ground at night.
“The civic body should carry out the bare minimum maintenance work. It’s a nice, shady, peaceful place and it should be left as it is,” said Hemant Pai, a resident of the locality.