Rattled by the growing public anger at the BMC’s plans to hand over Mumbai’s open spaces to private entities, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Friday intervened to put the move on hold and order a review.
Just two days back, his party, the BJP, had done a U-turn and backed its ally the Shiv Sena to push through the controversial open spaces policy in the teeth of opposition from activists who had warned that citizens would lose access to the city’s 1068 open spaces if it was implemented. Hindustan Times has long campaigned to save our open spaces, ever since the policy was first implemented in 2006-07 and resulted in nine large plots falling into private hands, out of bounds to the public.
Fadnavis has now directed BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta to review the policy and submit it to him after taking into consideration citizens’ objections. He has also asked Mehta to take back possession of 235 open spaces given to private entities in 2007 under the earlier policy.
That policy was put on hold within a year but in recent months the Shiv Sena has been pushing to revive it with some modifications, which it claimed addressed citizens’ concerns. But no one was convinced, not even the BJP, whose city chief Ashish Shelar had publically called for a review just two months back. But on Wednesday, he and his party colleagues had helped the Sena push the policy through in the BMC general council.
But as the protests grew, the BJP backtracked again. Earlier in the day, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray too had jumped into the fray adding to the disquiet in the BJP, which is very keen to outdo the Sena in the BMC elections scheduled in 2017.
He threatened to campaign against the policy, accusing the Sena-BJP of favouring builders. “The entire policy is tailor-made to suit the builders’ lobby. These builders will take over the ground, construct clubs and restrict the entry of the common citizens,” Thackeray alleged.
Fadnavis intervened after a BJP delegation met him and called attention to citizens’ concerns about the policy. These very same BJP members had cleared the policy in the civic body on Wednesday.
“We have provided a permanent solution to the citizens of Mumbai. The 235 open spaces with private entities and NGOs will be taken back and also the policy, which was opposed by citizens, will be amended. This is a citizens’ victory and they should congratulate the CM for this,” said Shelar.
Sources close to the developments, however, told HT that Thackeray’s decision to oppose the policy sent alarm bells ringing in the BJP camp, worried about the fallout during the civic elections next year.
Its U-turn has left the Sena out in the cold and is expected to widen the rift between the saffron allies further.
Citizen activists have cautiously welcomed the move. Nayana Kathpalia, trustee, NAGAR, said, “It is a good move provided there is some action. We are tired of these flip-flops since 2007. We just want BMC to maintain these open spaces with their own budget. We don’t even need an open space policy.”