2012, Colaba: An eatery had encroached upon a recreation ground. A local residents’ association filed a Right to Information appeal and followed it up with a court petition, which saved the plot. Today, thanks to the residents’ efforts, the plot has been developed into a garden with a play area for children.
2011, Mahim: An open plot reserved for a garden was being used as a garbage dump. An Advanced Locality Management took up the cause. Continuous follow-ups with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s maintenance department at the local ward office and private sponsorships from local trusts have now transformed the dump into a lush green space.
2006, Lalbaug, Currey Road: An RTI appeal filed by a local resident saved an open plot from being used for the redevelopment of slums that exist on a quarter of the plot. The RTI revealed that the plot was reserved as a recreation ground. The BMC has now put up a board stating that the plot is a recreation ground. Its development for recreation purposes is awaited.
As these instances, and many others, prove, it’s the vigilance of the residents of a locality that often saves an open space from becoming a dump or being encroached upon and taken over.
In a city that’s desperately short of open spaces, where real estate is at a premium and where the risk of losing an unoccupied plot to encroachments and development is so high, citizens need to be far more actively involved, say experts and activists. The need of the hour is better awareness and increased participation.
“Citizens realise the need for open spaces, but it does not top their list of concerns regarding civic amenities,” said Debi Goenka, environment activist. “Issues such as shortage of water, commuting woes, and road and traffic issues always take precedence over the lack of open spaces.”
Activists from CitiSpace, a non-government organisation that works to protect the city’s open spaces, said Mumbaiites don’t have access to the information about open spaces, which partly contributes to their lack of involvement and action. “In cases where citizens have been able to protect open spaces, they have either had to resort to filing RTIs or court petitions,” said Neera Punj, convenor, CitiSpace. “It is the duty of the civic body to make information about open spaces in the city available through its website and through maps displayed in local ward offices.”
But so far that has not been a priority for the BMC — in fact, citizens interested in getting more information on open spaces in their areas are more likely to be stonewalled by civic officials.
Fighting for one’s right to open spaces is not an easy task. From finding out the status of the reservation of a plot to dealing with civic authorities to going through the grind of its daily upkeep, maintaining an open space will take a good deal of your time, energy and endurance. But you are not alone in your battle — there are many city-based groups that will lend you a hand.
CitiSpace, for instance, with its team of 44 architects, has surveyed 1,000 open spaces in Mumbai and prepared a datasheet for each. This is made available to citizens for nominal charges.
“Civic officials are going to be difficult. But you have to constantly press them and draw their attention towards open spaces,” said Atul Vora, CitiSpace member.
So step out and fight for that garden your child deserves to play in.