How is it that the BMC, India’s richest civic body, does not have money to maintain open spaces?
As per NGO NAGAR’s estimates, the capital cost of setting up a park or a garden is Rs7.5 lakh, and its maintenance cost is Rs9 lakh a yearmumbai Updated: Nov 25, 2017 12:39 IST
Why should India’s richest civic body, whose budget is bigger than states like Goa (Rs14,694 crore) and Nagaland (Rs16,365 crore), need private entities’ help to maintain its 216 precious open spaces? This is a question being asked by citizen activists, a day after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which has a budget of Rs25,145crore for this year, passed without discussion an interim policy that allows private bodies and NGOs to take over playgrounds, recreation grounds and gardens for maintenance.
According to NGO NAGAR’s estimates, the capital cost of setting up a park or a garden is Rs7.5 lakh, and its maintenance cost is Rs9 lakh a year. Nayana Kathpalia, trustee of NAGAR, said, “The annual budget of BMC’s gardens department that maintains the open spaces is over Rs300 crore. They should easily be able to undertake development and maintenance of about 1,200 acres or 1,062 open spaces in Mumbai without the help of private players.”
In 2016-17, the civic body earmarked roughly 1.3% of its total budget to maintain the city’s open spaces. The BMC’s budget estimate for the gardens department for 2016-17 was Rs312.20 crore, Rs294.91 crore for 2015-16, and Rs362.17 crore for 2014-15.
Of the 1,062 open spaces, only 216 are maintained by private bodies, the rest are owned and maintained by the BMC.
Shailesh Gandhi, former chief information commissioner, said, “By making an interim policy to allow third parties in the equation, the BMC has come up with a legal way for politicos to interfere with public open spaces in the name of maintaining them.”
Municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta said, “It is not about whether the BMC has the money to maintain open spaces. It is a model of participatory governance. Many trusts and corporates are willing to take care of open spaces without charging a penny under the corporate social responsibility model. They are also citizens and there is no harm is allowing them to maintain the spaces.”
According to Mehta, the BMC will not lose possession of the said plots, and will only give them out on contract for maintenance for a short period.
Meher Rafat, a trustee of NGO NAGAR, said, “It is high time we got a final policy. The interim policy has been drafted with an underlying motive of protecting the interests of politicians. No NGOs and small citizens groups will be able to raise the money to take care of an open space just for 11 months. Even if we were to approach companies for a charity donation, no company would be willing to invest in a policy that may be scrapped within 11 months.”
Activists said the BMC could opt for a public-private partnership model instead. Mehta maintained it is the same concept. “Corporators offer to take care of open spaces through their CSR funds. We are not giving them ownership of the plot. We are only signing a temporary contract with them.”
First Published: Nov 25, 2017 12:39 IST