HT Column: Open spaces in Mumbai need Devendra Fadnavis’ attention

  • Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 20, 2015 17:56 IST

It’s been a month since Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced in the state assembly that he would take a decision on the pending issue of policy to protect open spaces in Mumbai.

He also said he would ensure that the city’s new development plan would have the norm of maintaining two square metres of open space per person.

Citizen groups and activists in the city are hoping that Fadnavis now fulfills his word and pays attention to the serious problem of Mumbai’s shrinking open spaces.

Ever since Mumbai witnessed a real estate boom, open spaces in the city— playgrounds, gardens and recreation grounds — have been under constant threat.

There has been a drastic fall in the number of open spaces over the past decades, as they fell prey to land sharks and the nexus between unscrupulous builders, corrupt politicians and greedy bureaucrats.

To make matters worse, the civic body tried to hand over the playgrounds and recreation grounds to private entities under a controversial caretaker policy.

Under the caretaker policy, the private organisations or NGOs were to be handed over the open spaces for maintenance and in exchange they could build a clubhouse or any other structure on a part of the same.

The move was strongly opposed by citizen groups who said that the policy would restrict access of the citizens, especially children, to the open spaces in a land- starved city.

Following the uproar, the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh stayed the controversial policy.

About a year ago, the civic body prepared a revised open spaces policy under which recreation grounds and playgrounds were sought to be given on adoption basis, which would not allow any construction.

However, the politicians, especially in the civic body, have been opposing the same.

In 2012, the state government for med a committee under the chair manship of the civic chief to form a uniform policy for maintaining all non-buildable reservations (open spaces as well as waterbodies), but the gover nment has still not looked at its recommendations.

Meanwhile, the open spaces in the city are under more and more threat.

The government in December passed a legislation to allow religious and political use of playgrounds 45 days a year. Earlier, grounds could be used for religious purposes for 30 days a year. Add the three months of monsoon, which means the playg rounds would not be available to children for about five months.

Citizen groups have also raised questions over the civic body’s recent decision to allow mobile phone towers on open spaces.

The 1991 development plan of the city, which is in effect now, had promised two square metres of open space per person in the island city and five square metres in the suburbs.

However, the ave rage actual existing open space accessible to citizens is barely 1 square metre per person.

The national standard for the same is 10 square metres per person. The BMC has proposed to make it to two square metres across the city in the development plan .

Fadnavis’ announcement in the assembly is considered as the state government’s nod to the same.
Citizen groups now want the chief minister to act on his promises and also take steps to protect the city’s remaining open spaces and ensure that they remain accessible to the citizens all the time.

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