New open spaces policy for Mumbai likely to be passed on Nov 9

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Nov 09, 2015 01:32 IST
An aerial view of Azad Maidan in Mumbai. A controversial open spaces policy could get a crucial nod on Monday. (Hindustan Times)

Despite drawing severe flak from citizen groups and experts, the controversial open spaces policy is most likely to receive a crucial nod on Monday. The policy, which will dictate the way the city’s open spaces are maintained, is likely to receive the civic improvements committee’s approval.

If passed, the policy will only be a step away from being implemented — it will then be tabled before the general body of 227 corporators for final approval.

Despite the debate the policy has ignited in civil society, the civic panel will see little discussion. Sources in major political parties said it is likely to be approved without any opposition from corporators, with all political parties backing it in unison.

The ruling Shiv Sena-BJP alliance has backed the policy, even giving it a go-ahead in the crucial meeting of group leaders from different parties last month. The meeting ended with a just one demand: the decision-making committees include corporators and allow them to have a say on the fate of open spaces in their areas.

This, along with the suspicion over the intended purpose of the policy, has drawn severe criticism from citizen groups. While the BMC insists that the newly released policy, also called the Recreational Grounds Playgrounds (RGPG) policy, has scrapped the controversial old caretaker clause, citizen groups claimed the policy still facilitates its backdoor entry. The old caretaker policy, before it was stalled in 2007, had led many open spaces/plots slip into the hands of private entities controlled by politicians, who in turn misused the properties by building gymkhanas, clubhouses, open only to members at exorbitant prices.

The new policy was expected to make open spaces more accessible to citizens, but instead it has provided opportunities to organisations with vested interests to gain control of plots on caretaker basis, yet again. However, despite the unity amongst political parties, citizen groups are not giving up and instead, are preparing themselves for a tough battle ahead. Aware that corporators may not take notice of their opposition to it, citizen bodies going to notch up their protest, if the policy gets a nod tomorrow.

NAGAR, a citizens collective which works to reclaim open spaces in the city, said that it will approach chief minister Devendra Fadnavis if the policy is approved. “These grounds reserved as open spaces must be kept non-buildable. When the city suffers a severe paucity of open spaces, the policy in its present format is unacceptable,” said Meher Rafat, trustee NAGAR.

However this is not the first time BMC hastily tabled proposals and sought clearances on contentious proposals. In August 2014, the BMC had cleared proposals worth Rs 850 crore in 90 minutes without discussion, just before the code of conduct for the Assembly election. The improvements committee, headed by a BJP corporator, Prakash Gangadhare, said, “The policy has scrapped the earlier caretaker policy, the only demand that exists is now the inclusion of local corporators in the committees.”

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