SoBo citizens reclaim their open space after nine years
A citizens’ initiative to reclaim an open space in south Bombay has borne fruit – resultantly, a well-designed garden at the Jawaharlal Nehru Garden, opposite the Life India Corporation of India, will be built soon
Mumbai: A citizens’ initiative to reclaim an open space in south Bombay has borne fruit – resultantly, a well-designed garden at the Jawaharlal Nehru Garden, opposite the Life India Corporation of India, will be built soon. It is no small victory of the Nariman Point Churchgate Citizens Association (NPCCA), that filed a PIL in the Bombay high court in 2013 to rid the space of encroachments.
After the court ruled in NPCCA’s favour in 2015, the space was cleared of encroachments, at the behest of former municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta. Most encroachments were cleared by 2020, but the pandemic stalled further plans of development. Now, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will finally build the garden.
Incidentally, the entire area was marked for a recreation ground in the 1961 development plan (DP) of Mumbai – it included the small garden which houses Nehru’s statue and also a few ministerial bungalows.
NPCCA had been crusading against these encroachments and complained to BMC on many occasions in the past. When no one heeded their pleas, they moved court. As Atul Kumar, president of NPCCA said, “We were fighting with the government for 15 years before filing the PIL. Instead of removing the structures, the government continued to build more and more.”
The headquarters of Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, spread over 7000 sq feet, was located on this plot, before they moved in 2014 to Apeejay House, in Churchgate. Two chowkies of the BMC conservancy department were demolished between 2015 and ‘20. The plot also housed an office of employment and self-employment department which was also pulled down.
However, since the plot housed the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters and the party did not want to move out, the BJP-led government quietly amended the DP in 2018 and marked Jawaharlal Nehru Garden as ‘Recreation ground plus’ (which means other structures can be built in the ground), to allow the state BJP and Janata Dal offices to remain on the periphery.
“Compromising the recreation grounds is non-negotiable. We are thrilled to have a garden back – the space was grossly encroached by the state government owned structures. Most of them are cleared now. Since walking on Marine Drive has become difficult, as the promenade is truncated due to the coastal road work, this is a welcome clean and green patch for us,” said Kumar. “Our forum works for a better neighbourhood and quality of life. The Marine Drive promenade, recreation grounds and playgrounds are important to us.”
A senior IAS officer, residing in Yashodhan building, behind the LIC headquarters said, “This garden with a walking track will add to the beauty of the Churchgate area. Many bureaucrats who stay in the vicinity and also the ministers who reside in cottages opposite the Mantralaya can use this space.”
Acknowledging the crusade of local residents, Shashi Bhembde, executive engineer of BMC’s garden department, said, “They have taken away this plot (measuring over an acre) from the state public works department (PWD) and given it to us for development. Since this area lies in heritage precincts, we have also taken permission from the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee to carry through the plan of the garden – it will get basalt cladding so that it gels with the heritage precinct. The jogging track will approximately measure 800 metres and will be made of Kota stone.”
The civic body will spend nearly ₹1.73 crores for the project.