BMC proposes ‘other uses’ on SoBo open space occupied by state BJP

  • Kunal Purohit, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 10, 2016 01:19 IST

Even as the city struggles to create green open spaces, its development plan (DP) has now proposed to allow ‘other uses’ on a large plot at Nariman Point reserved for a recreation ground (RG) and occupied by the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and five other agencies.

Apart from opening up the plot for various uses in addition to being a recreation ground (RG) for the next two decades, the move has given rise to fears among locals that the current occupants might use the new tag to argue their case for continued use of the plot.

The BMC, however, denied it was trying to legalise the existing structures by adding the ‘other uses’ provision.

The civic body, in its proposed land use (PLU) maps, also marked the space, spread over 60,000 sqft, as an existing open space, even though it is completely occupied by structures.

Such a move will help the civic body inflate the dwindling number of open spaces in the city.

The state BJP is the plot’s largest occupant, with its headquarters spread over nearly 10,000 sqft.

This flies in the face of a Bombay high court order in March this year, which had asked the state government to try and shift these structures out and reclaim the open space.

While local residents have been engaged in a battle to save the open space from various structures like the BJP state headquarters, an office of the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation and a Janata Dal (United) office, among others, the BMC has gone ahead and shown the plot to have ‘other uses’. Instead of simply marking the plot as a reserved open space, the BMC has marked it as an existing open space, along with a ‘plus’ sign. This sign, civic officials confirmed, meant the space had other uses as well. However, civic chief Ajoy Mehta said the recognition was not a sign of the legality of the structures.

HT had, last year, reported how the scrapped DP had removed the open spaces reservation, thereby allowing all the users to continue using it, a move that prompted many protests.

In fact, the legal battle fought by the residents had resulted in the Bombay high court, in March this year, asking all illegal structures on the plot to be demolished within six months. The court judgment castigated the BJP state office severely, stating it had illegally, without even applying for permissions, built on eight times more area than it was allotted. According to the judgment, the party had been allotted 1,200 sqft of land in 1989 for a period of two years and later was, in 1995, given an additional 1,482 sqft as open space. Instead, the party built structures on more than 9,752 sqft of land. After the high court’s rap, the party has now agreed to demolish 8,552 sqft.

Locals fear the DP’s provision is aimed at helping the party, along with other users, to ‘legalise’ their illegalities. “There is a very real chance that one of the users will move court and show that as the RG has been marked for other uses, they must be allowed to occupy it. Why did the BMC have to make such provisions, anyway?” said a local resident, refusing to be named, citing the legal battle.

“The court had clearly asked the state to maintain the sanctity of this space and the BMC must do everything it can to follow the same,” said Atul Kumar, from the Nariman Point Churchgate Citizens Association. Kumar said the citizens would file objections to the move.

Mehta, on his part, dismissed the fears. “Since it is an RG, 15% of it is open for construction anyway. We are not trying to legalise any structure, but are only recording the fact that there are structures on the open space and that it is being used for other purposes too,” he said. However, rules state that the 15% construction must only be of sports-related facilities such as gymkhanas and swimming pools and not offices for political parties and government agencies.

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