New open spaces policy is as vulnerable as the old one

  • Ayaz Memon, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jan 15, 2016 00:18 IST
The policy, passed on Wednesday, allows corporates to adopt playgrounds, and had come in for flak from almost all quarters when it was originally proposed by the Shiv Sena some months ago. (File photo)

Activists and other socially-conscious citizens in the city are upset at the BJP’s volte face in agreeing to the contentious ‘open space policy’ proposed by the Shiv Sena in the BMC.

“This is nothing but political chicanery,” said one irate activist to me which, of course, is oxymoronic. As everybody would know, politics and trickery are regular bedmates. A ‘no’ could mean a ‘yes’ if other conditions are fulfilled.

The policy, passed on Wednesday, allows corporates to adopt playgrounds, and had come in for flak from almost all quarters when it was originally proposed by the Shiv Sena some months ago.

The most vehement objections had come from Sena’s ally BJP, compelling a referral to the BMC’s improvements panel, where it was believed it would be shot down, or at least substantially amended.

But in a change of heart, the BJP acquiesced to the Sena proposal with minor changes. What caused this sudden change of heart has to been explained. But then perhaps none is needed for the game is clear.

The two parties are allies at the centre, state and BMC, yet have been jostling for political space ever since the NDA government swept into power. In Maharashtra, and even more so in the BMC where the Sena has been the ‘senior’ partner for several years, it has been a veritable tug-of-war.

The relationship has been volatile, occasionally erupting into major crises that put the alliance under threat. But both sides have learnt to pull back in time to ensure against a split.

Over time, it appears the BJP and Sena have settled into a rhythm where benefits and advantages for each are now identified. The other supports, accommodates or acquiesces depending on the circumstances. In simple terms, this is ‘give and take’ -- sometimes with easy negotiations, sometimes bitter.

But this is not restricted to the BJP and Sena, rather is the basis on which most alliances cohabit. So, while they might go hoarse crying foul now, the Congress and NCP were not much different when in power together not too long back.

But let’s revert back to the open spaces policy under discussion and its possible impact on the city. The BJP argues that it has built-in safeguards to prevent mischief which on paper rings true.

For instance, unlike in the original Sena proposal, while the playgrounds would be given for adoption by corporates (with a minimum turnover of Rs1.5 crore) for a period of five years, no structures would be allowed.

There is also provision for free entry of children, and a nominal fee, which won’t dent the pocket, for others. On the face of it, therefore, the new policy seems to tick all the boxes.

But as is known, the best policies can be exploited for nefarious ends. What looks good on paper can get easily besmirched in execution and practice because of greed for power or pelf.

For instance, in the ‘caretaker policy’ which was in practice earlier, politicians virtually usurped several playgrounds through their trusts, some of them starting clubs as a social initiative, but eventually leading to pecuniary gains.

Effectively, therefore, the current policy is technically as good or vulnerable as the earlier one depending on how the citizens, want it. Mumbai is a city where open spaces have shrunk alarmingly. The onus is on us to protect what we have.

Vigilance from within the municipal corporation as well as from outside virtually ends once a policy has been passed or a project executed. After that, only a very serious complaint can bring any misdemeanor to book.

All told, it is not the new policy which is the problem, rather how it is followed. Most times when there is a violation, authority looks the other way because of vested interest. But if people, too, prefer to be ignorant, lazy, or too fed-up to help themselves, you know where the blame rests.

In a metaphorical sense, this is a call to arms.

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