As the general body of elected representatives considers a proposal to clear the controversial open spaces policy today, a fresh threat to the city’s scarce open space has emerged.
In a move that could restrict your access to open spaces, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has re-designated at least a hundred existing play grounds (PGs) and parks as ‘recreation grounds’ (RG) — this means they can be given to private entities or NGOs under the new open spaces policy.
The Hindustan Times, along with citizen groups, has been continuously campaigning against the malpractices in the name of protecting open spaces in the city.
In BMC’s freshly-prepared ‘Designation Survey’ that has been put on its website for public scrutiny, it has, with a tweak in terminology, thrown open precious open spaces for private use and for construction on them, by classifying them as RGs. On this ‘reclassified’ list are some of Mumbai’s most iconic open spaces. Fort’s Horniman Circle, which the 2034 DP designated as a playground and that civic officials found was being used as a ‘garden’ is now, without any reason, designated an ‘RG’. Similarly, the RG tag has been given to Cross Maidan and Azad Maidan.
In the A ward alone —which covers south Mumbai — there are more than 30 such instances of open spaces being re-marked as RGs.
The move will not only rob the city of its much-required open spaces, but also allow private players to usurp prime real estate. Here is why: according to the development control rules that govern the use of plots in the city, any plot designated as an RG can be used to construct swimming pools, gymkhanas, clubs and pavilions, among other things.
The DCR also says construction can be permitted on part of the land, with a floor space index of 1.
Some of the worst examples of private open spaces being usurped for politician-run private clubs have stemmed from open spaces being marked as RGs.
For instance, the Matoshree Club in Jogeshwari, the MIG Club in Bandra (East), Kamala Vihar Sports Complex in Borivli and the Wellington Club in Santacruz, have all come up on open spaces that were designated as RGs. Many of these private clubs were set up by politicians, and then made exclusive, members-only estates.
This redesignation of open spaces comes even as citizens have expressed their concerns over the new open spaces policy, which they viewed as being a tool of subverting public open spaces into private hands that will house facilities for a select few.
BMC chief Ajoy Mehta was surprised at the development, when HT contacted him. “I will get it checked immediately. Nonetheless, we will not allow any construction on RGs” he said.
But another civic official said these might be discrepancies that have crept in during the process. “As many existing open spaces in the 1991 DP were designated as RGs, and are now being used as gardens, this may have happened.” When told there were instances of plots designated as gardens and PGs being re-marked, the official promised to look into the matter.