At the receiving end for its contentious open spaces policy, the Brihanumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), after a two-year delay, is going to develop and maintain 159 playgrounds and offer facilities for sports such as kabaddi, kho-kho, basketball, volleyball, handball and athletics under a Rs96-crore plan.
This move is being seen by many as a damage-control measure by the BMC, which is facing criticism for an open spaces policy that citizens and activists say could restrict access of citizens to more than 1,000 playgrounds and recreation grounds. Citizen groups have been slamming the civic body— which has annual budget of Rs30,000 crore — for not maintaining its open spaces even though funds are available.
The BMC has finalised the contractors who will develop and maintain the plots in all 24 wards. More than 100 of these will have open-air gymnasiums. These plots include some of the 1,068 open spaces and others handed over to BMC by developers according to requirements under the policy for reservation for amenities.
The plots will be developed within three months of a work order being issued to contractors, who will also be responsible for maintaining the plot for the next three years.
A senior official from the BMC’s gardens department said, “This is the first time the civic body is going to develop playgrounds and recreational grounds in such a way. Soon, the proposal will be tabled before standing committee for a final approval.”
“The purpose is to engage youth and encourage sports. This will help schools that do not have playgrounds,” said SS Shinde, joint municipal commissioner (gardens).
Civic activists, however, have raised doubts over the quality of the development of these playgrounds and sport facilities, as the contractors bagged the projects for as low as 30% below the civic body’s estimated cost of the work. While the BMC’s estimate was Rs143 crore, contractors chose to bid 20% to 30% below.
“In the past, the contractors had agreed to maintain the gardens and playground below the estimated cost, but ended doing shoddy job. This time again, they want to develop sporting facilities at up to 30% below the estimated cost. At the end, the quality and maintenance will be in question as they will not compromise on their profit margins,” said Nikhil Desai, a citizen activist from Matunga.