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Plot against open spaces

623 recreational areas up for grabs under new civic policy, reports Naresh Kamath.

india Updated: Oct 27, 2006 06:24 IST

In a city starved of open spaces, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is now inviting private parties into more than 623 existing open spaces like gymkhanas, playgrounds, parks and gardens and allowing them to commercially exploit the premises. The step threatens to drastically reduce the only recreational spaces available to the common man.

A new policy passed last week by the general body of the BMC allows private parties to make money by using a portion of the land by building a club, in return for which they will have to maintain the entire premises. The civic body pleads lack of resources to maintain these public facilities and calls the move a win-win solution.

Non-government organisations (NGOs) and urban planners, however, are unhappy with the plan because past experiences — when the policy was not around and when individual contracts were entered into with private players — amply demonstrate how norms are blatantly violated in such arrangements as the private party milks the venue.

Activists and planners accuse the BMC of attempting to usurp the remaining open spaces, as the past has shown the political class will give themselves or their cronies the contracts. “Moreover, private parties tend to restrain citizens’ access. They also tend to build clubs in more than the allowed space,” urban planner VK Pathak said.

The new guidelines state that private parties may build gymnasiums, clubhouses or any structures on up to 25 per cent of the total land. In September 2005, the “policy guidelines for allowing development of lands reserved for public purpose of gymnasium, gymkhana, club, stadium, swimming pool, recreation ground and play ground” was formulated and sent to the urban development department of the state government. It amended it to disallow political activities and also scrapped a proposal to dilute the civic commissioner’s powers regarding allotment of plots to private parties. Last week the state government sent the policy back after approval to the civic body, where it was passed.

Activists allege the policy is backdoor privatisation of the remaining open spaces in the city, which already gives a miserable 0.03 acres of open space for every 1,000 people. The Developmental Rules specify 4 acres for 1,000 people.

“The only purpose of the scheme is to construct posh clubs with lakhs of rupees in membership fees,” Manoj Mehta, secretary, Area Local Management Group of JV Cross Road, Ghatkopar, said.

The BMC says private participation will improve amenities and prevent misuse. “It takes lakhs to maintain grounds and gardens, which we cannot do. There’s nothing wrong if private parties build clubs as they have to recover their costs,” Improvement Committee Chairman Sharad Petiwala said.

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First Published: Oct 27, 2006 06:09 IST