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Open spaces are yours again

Soon, you will decide what happens to open spaces in your locality. Civic body preparing policy to ensure clubs can’t bar you from public land. It will also allow you to veto the handing over of plots to private organisations. Kunal Purohit reports.

mumbai Updated: Sep 14, 2010 02:31 IST
Kunal Purohit
Kunal Purohit
Hindustan Times

You will soon have the major say in what happens to open spaces in your neighbourhood.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is framing a new policy on open spaces that will give citizens the first right to maintain an open space as well as to decide what facilities it will have. Citizens will also be able to stall the handing over of a ground to a private party if they feel there has been a malpractice in the bidding process.

Most important, the new policy will ensure they are not denied access to the open space even if it is handed over to a private organisation for maintenance.

This has been the most controversial aspect of the current policy. Open spaces were handed over to private organisations, many of them backed by politicians, for maintenance. The organisations were allowed to build facilities, such as clubs, on 25 per cent of the space while beautifying and keeping open to the public the rest.

However, in practice, citizens are rarely allowed to use the open space.

Hindustan Times had in 2007 carried a series highlighting misuse of public spaces. The state government had then stayed the policy.

On June 15, 2010, Hindustan Times had, in its Mumbai First citizens’ charter submitted to the government, asked for a citizen-centric policy.

As per the new policy — Hindustan Times got a peek at the draft — any organisation that wins the bid to maintain an open space will have to first beautify and hand over to the BMC 75 per cent of the space. Only then can it build a clubhouse or sporting facilities on the remaining area. This will ensure that citizens are never denied access to the ground.

A competitive bidding process will involve citizens. The thrust will be on residential societies maintaining smaller grounds in their neighbourhoods. For larger grounds, the policy will encourage joint ventures between societies and private organisations.

“With competitive bidding, no party with a vested interest [read political backing] can get a plot,” said the official. Locals can stall the handing over of a plot if they are not happy with the process. The bidding criteria would include landscaping and beautification that citizens can avail of.

If approved, the policy would usher in a paradigm shift in the way the city’s open spaces are maintained.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan told Hindustan Times: “I received several complaints from citizens about open spaces, after which I thought there should be transparency. I have instructed the BMC to draft a policy, making sure citizens have the major say in it.”

A civic official involved with the drafting of the policy said: “It would ensure that citizens are always in control of 75 per cent of every open space.”

The policy also gives citizens first right over grounds in their localities. “All citizen bodies from the ward concerned would be eligible to maintain open spaces there. We’ll encourage tie-ups with companies to ensure the bid is financially feasible,” said the official on condition of anonymity.

The city still has 182 parks and grounds on offer. Activists have been battling to save these spaces, more than 40 of which are larger than 15,000 sq mt and collectively as large as four Oval Maidans.

Inputs by Sayli Udas Mankikar

First Published: Sep 14, 2010 02:29 IST