In a space-starved concrete jungle like Mumbai, how can the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) increase the number of open spaces? If its under-revision development plan (DP) is anything to go by, it can do so by marking private, exclusive enclaves of the rich as ‘public open spaces’.
The civic body has tagged tony clubs such as the Bombay Gymkhana, Radio Club, Wodehouse Gymkhana, among others, as ‘recreational grounds’ for public, although there is a separate category termed ‘clubs and gymkhanas’. The clubs and their amenities are open only to members. Tagging them as public open spaces would achieve little except increase the city’s per capita open spaces ratio, say planners.
This comes even as citizen groups are against the controversial open spaces policy, which facilitates private takeover of public greens. Also, it is not much different from what was mentioned in the scrapped draft development plan (DP). In it draft report, the BMC had proposed that areas such as Raj Bhavan, Doongerwadi (the Tower of Silence), JJ College, the Haffkine Institute, Navy Nagar, Indian Institute of Technology campus, among others, be opened up to public as open spaces. The BMC had marked these clubs as open spaces even in the existing land use maps published in 2012.
The list of such members-only clubs and gymkhanas that have been marked as public open spaces is long and covers almost all parts of the city. For instance, in Juhu, the designation survey marks the controversial Club Millennium as recreational ground (RG). Not so far away, in Andheri West, The Club has also been marked as a public open space. Similarly, the sea-facing United Services Club in Colaba, whose website mentions that it is meant ‘only for serving and retired services officers’, has also been marked as RG.
Also, the civic body hasn’t reclassified all private clubs and gymkhanas consistently. Some clubs with similar use, such as Bandra’s MIG Club and the Royal Bombay Yacht Club in Colaba, has been rightfully marked as ‘club/gymkhana’.
Beyond marking private clubs, the civic body has been rather imaginative in its definition of what constitutes an open space. For instance, at the governor’s residence at Raj Bhavan, the civic body has marked the ‘greenery on slopes with internal road’ as a public open space, by calling it RG.
BMC chief Ajoy Mehta said the civic body will publish a detailed clarification, which “would clear all doubts”.