Already upset with civic body’s proposal to conduct bidding for handing over open spaces on caretaker basis, city activists are now up in arms against the civic improvements committee’s plan to amend it to ensure that private trusts are allowed to continue their hold on plots.
This comes a day after Hindustan Times reported how citizens’ groups won’t be able to afford to adopt open spaces in their neighbourhood.
While the proposed open spaces policy had promised to take back land from private trusts, the civic improvements committee, which is now studying the policy, wants to amend it. At least six such public plots are controlled by private trusts headed by politicians, most belonging to the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders.
The committee also plans to amend to slash the minimum bidding amount in half, from the current Rs3,000 per sqm.
Slamming the caretaker policy and the proposed amendments, activists said rather than bidding, citizen groups should be allowed to oversee maintenance of open spaces. “The municipal commissioner should not approve these amendments as they can not save the green cover. Rather than having a policy which commercialises open spaces, the BMC must maintain them on its own,” said Neera Punj, convener, CitiSpace, an NGO, that works to protect open spaces in the city.
Shyama Kulkarni, trustee, Action For Good Governance and Networking in India, also opposed the move. “Citizen groups do not have the resources to enter the bidding process. But if maintenance is handed over to citizen groups, they can always get small sponsorships from trusts. Citizens can take control of supervising and monitoring the work,” she said.
Several corporators also didn’t seem to agree with the Sena-BJP's move. Criticising the policy, Samajwadi Party group leader Rais Shaikh said: “This policy seems to be nothing but old wine in a new bottle. This is an attempt to ensure that these clubs continue their occupation on these plots. The policy needs to be more transparent and in favour of locals. We will oppose it.” However, Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) group leader in the civic body Dhananjay Pisal was guarded in his response. “If the trusts want to continue their occupation of these plots, then the least that the civic body can do is to charge a hefty rent,” he said.
Pisal said the civic body needed to set fresh terms if they wished to let the trusts continue their hold on the plots. These plots should be opened to the public and made accessible to them.”