Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s announcement in the Assembly that residents would now influence whether open spaces in their area would be turned into recreational areas or handed over to clubs or private parties gave a new lease of life to the open spaces policy that was gathering dust for over two years.
It will be a citizen-centric policy by which residents would have the first claim to adopt a ground. Only if they refuse would it be handed over to a club or developer.
“We stayed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC’s) adoption and caretaker policies [in November 2007] after receiving several complaints. Henceforth, the first right to refusal will be with residents. They will decide whether they want a recreation ground, a playground or a club managed by a private party,” Chavan said in the Assembly on Wednesday.
This statement was a shot in the arm for citizens fighting against the BMC’s open spaces policy. The policy meant to give out 40 open spaces, each larger than 15,000 square metres to private parties to build clubs, denying access to public. It was after huge public protests and consistent reportage that the state government stayed the policy.
Mumbai has only 940 acres of open space left in the form of gardens and grounds. According to the National Building Code, the recommended norm for reserved public open spaces is 4 acres per 1,000 persons. Mumbai has just 0.03 acres per 1,000 persons.
Chavan lamented that in several cases public representatives had taken possession of such facilities. He was referring to plots been given to Matoshree Club at Jogeshwari, Prabhodhankar Thackeray Sports Complex at Vile Parle and Mandapeshwar Civic Federation Gymkhana at Borivli, among others, which have been given to politicians and do not allow access to non-members.
Congress MLA Amin Patel raised the issue in the Legislature. “The land is public land; each citizen should be able to avail of its benefits. If the BMC cannot maintain it, then it should hand it over to the government and we will build recreational facilities,” said Patel.
Citizen groups were happy that the policy is moving ahead, but they want to make sure the grounds don’t end up in the wrong hands.
“There are several takers for adopting the grounds — housing societies, citizen groups and even schools. The policy should be reworked and a time-bound plan charted out,” said Neera Punj, convenor of CitiSpace, a non-governmental organisation working on urban land issues.