The new open spaces policy may have been put on hold for a month, but activists say the fight is far from over. With another month in hand, they are fighting hard to save Mumbai’s scarce open spaces. Activists and experts from across the city are meeting local corporators and writing letters to MLAs explaining the deep flaws in the proposed policy.
The Shiv Sena, which heads the BMC, took a step back on Wednesday after its ally, the BJP, said the open spaces policy should not be approved in its current form. Until Tuesday, the BJP was in favour of the new policy, and had helped the Shiv Sena get it approved at the civic improvement committee meeting last week. Opposition parties had voted against the policy. But on Tuesday, Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar backed the demands of citizens’ groups and activists and asked for the policy to be sent back to the improvement committee. Following this, the Shiv Sena did not table the policy in the general body for discussion, fearing a lack of votes. The policy is now likely to be put up for discussion next month.
Shailesh Gandhi, an RTI activist vehemently opposed to the BMC’s proposal to hand over plots to private entities, is planning to meet elected representatives to register citizens’ opposition. “The BMC has proposed an ‘adoption policy’ for the open spaces under its control. The scheme is designed to give priority to corporates and other entities with lots of money. We are aware once somebody has possession of any property, he becomes the de facto owner. Many open spaces handed out earlier have clearly been usurped by private parties. This is a clear attempt to create private interests on public lands.”
Activists have been questioning the BMC’s proposal to put up prime plots for adoption despite having the money to develop and maintain them on its own. “BMC is cash-rich and can surely manage gardens and playgrounds for which it is asking NGOs to show a turnover of Rs5 crore. It is just a scheme to allow organisations with vested interests to own open spaces,” said Vidya Vaidya from H-west federation.
The BMC has maintained that the crux of the policy is to promote public participation in maintaining neighbourhood gardens. However, activists have suggested methods to ensure public participation without any finances from NGOs. “The BMC can issue tenders to develop gardens and maintain them while activists, ALMs and other organisations work as watchdogs and save the spaces from encroachments. There will be no need for any adoption or caretaker policy,” said Meher Rafat, trustee, NAGAR.