In a major victory for citizens who have been fighting to save a 4.5-acre open space in Juhu, the civic body has decided to terminate the controversial caretaker agreement with a private trust, citing violation of agreement.
Municipal commissioner Subodh Kumar cleared the file that recommended the cancellation of agreement with the trust on Thursday.
Now, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will initiate the process to take back the land from the Ronson Foundation.
Manisha Mhaiskar, additional municipal commissioner, confirmed that the BMC has decided to cancel the agreement.
The BMC had purchased the 4.5-acre plot, adjoining the Kaifi Azmi Park, from Mhada in 1986. The plot, earmarked as a ‘city forest’ at JVPD scheme, was handed over in 1990 to the Ronson Foundation for development and maintenance.
In 1998, an agreement was drawn up allotting this recreational ground to the Ronson Foundation under the caretaker policy (see box). This was one of the eight plots given to various private trusts to built clubs and gymnasiums. Soon after, the Foundation stopped allowing people to use the plot, which had the residents up in arms.
In March, the BMC sent a notice to the Foundation for breach of agreement. The notice was sent after an internal report by the local ward office and the development plan department pointed to glaring irregularities in the agreement.
One of the key reasons for the cancellation of the agreement was that in a tree census, officials found that of the 1,300 trees on the plot — when it was given on lease — only 438 survive.
The report also pointed out that the 1998 agreement with the Foundation had not been ratified by the civic general body, making it null and void. The third reason for the cancellation was that the Commencement Certificate issued by the civic general body for carrying out construction had lapsed.
In its reports on February 26 and May 24, HT had reported the irregularities the BMC officials had found. “Subodh Kumar’s decision has set a precedent for all citizens’ groups who are trying to save open spaces in their areas,” said Sanjay Hedge, chairman of Gulmohar Area Societies Welfare Group, which has been fighting to save the plot for the past seven years.