The city’s civic body has a budget of Rs33,000 crore this year — more than the budget of some smaller states in the country. And yet the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has chosen to hand over open spaces in the city to private parties or NGOs to maintain them. In the past five years, the BMC has set aside Rs1,073 crore of public funds for the development and maintenance of your neighbourhood gardens and recreation grounds. On an average, it allocates more than Rs200 crore each year. With this kind of money, the BMC can easily maintain 1,062 plots or 1,200 acres of open spaces, as mentioned in the new RG/PG policy (at an estimate cost of Rs108 crore a year).
Despite delegating so much money, citizens are being denied entry to public spaces because the BMC handed over the large plots to private entities for the development of gymkhanas, which turned them into members-only spaces. The new policy, which scraps the caretaker policy, has failed to impress the activists. They feel
it is the BMC’s duty to maintain the reserved public open spaces and not allow it to slip into the hands of entities with vested interests.
“Ideally, the BMC should hand over plots on a pilot basis first. There are only some NGOs that can be trusted in the city,” said Sulakshana Mahajan, urban planner and transport expert.
Nayana Kathpalia, trustee NAGAR, said, “The policy, in its present format, is unacceptable. There was a government-led expert committee, including a representative from the state government, the BMC and stakeholders, who suggested measures to make the policy citizen-friendly, but none have been included.”
The new RG/PG policy, which will be put forth before the improvement committee and for final approval before general body of all elected representatives, has several loopholes that may allow politicians or private outfits to take control of the open spaces.
With the huge budgetary allocation, activists feel the BMC should develop gardens on its own and appoint local groups, NGOs as watchdog to save the depleting open spaces. “With a budget that can easily suffice developments of plots, the BMC should take the matter in its own hand. Citizens can step in to keep a check on miscreants and maintain the developed open spaces,” said Meher Rafat, trustee NAGAR.
But the BMC feels delegating power to the NGOs and organisations for the development of their neighbourhood gardens facilitates greater involvement of the citizens. Ajoy Mehta, municipal commissioner, said, “With the involvement of citizen groups, NGOs for development of the gardens/open spaces we are giving more say to citizens in the decisions related to the development in their ward. The monetary conditions are only included to instil a sense of responsibility in the group.”