BMC's open spaces policy: The big Mumbai con

What used to be an open ground in Vile Parle, is now a sports centre. Pic/Sameer Markande
What used to be an open ground in Vile Parle, is now a sports centre. Pic/Sameer Markande

If an NGO or a citizens' group want to adopt an open space, they will have to satisfy five stringent criteria totaling 70 'marks', under the BMC's open spaces policy. If corporates house battle it out for the same, all they need is a CSR wing. This mechanism, which activists say is to keep genuine stakeholders away, is hidden in the BMC's now-deferred recreation/play ground policy.

Consider the following and see if your residents' association or any NGO you know will pass the BMC's test:

You need to be affiliated to a state administrative or sports department; you need to have at least five years' experience in 'developing and maintaining facilities'; you need to have a financial turnover of at least Rs1 crore; your organisation must be in the same ward as the open space you want to adopt. And if you satisfy all these conditions your proposal will still be judged by the BMC for 20 marks.

Lost spaces

Matoshree Arts and Sports Trust Complex and Club near Green Field, JVLR, Andheri East,
Matoshree Arts and Sports Trust Complex and Club near Green Field, JVLR, Andheri East

Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana near Khar (West)
Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana near Khar (West)

While Additional Municipal Commissioner SVR Srinivas insisted that if a citizens' group and a company want to adopt the same ground, the former will be preferred, activists alleged that the policy clearly states on paper that corporates have the edge.

They pointed to a line in the policy document that reads: 'Reputed and well-known companies registered under CSR, if willing, will be given priority (in addition to the above)'. The line directly follows the criteria covering the 70 marks.

The contentious conditions are just the latest in a long list of clauses that activists have been opposing. Activists also objected to how politicians were given a backdoor entry for retaining plots they had obtained as caretakers and to the relevance of the policy as a whole.

Veer Savarkar Udyan in Borivli (West)
Veer Savarkar Udyan in Borivli (West) 

Prabodhankar Thackeray Krida Sankul at Vile Parle (East)
Prabodhankar Thackeray Krida Sankul at Vile Parle (East) 

"The policy is very clear about the fact that citizens' groups will be given preference," claimed Srinivas. "Although the number of criteria for them is more, if they fulfill all criteria, they will be preferred. The additional 50 marks are only if all the applicants are companies, where renowned and reputed ones registered with the stock exchange will win. If the choice is between local residents and corporates, residents will get preference despite scoring less or not fulfilling criteria. Since there is no tangible profit in adopting a ground, the motive of corporates could be to usurp the land. How will we let that happen? The policy is in favour of citizens."

But activists said these oral assurances are difficult to accept when the document has clearly laid down the criteria.

"They say they are going to prefer citizens' groups over corporates. How? Why has that not been mentioned in the policy? Why is it open to the interpretation of a BMC official and therefore so subjective?" asked former information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi. Nayana Kathpalia, convenor of the NGO NAGAR, added, "If they want to favour citizens' groups, why involve corporates and PSUs at all? The entire policy is tilted in the favour of those financially strong. The BMC should either maintain the open space or give it to citizens' organisations."

The MIG Cricket Club in Bandra (East)
The MIG Cricket Club in Bandra (East)

Poisar Gymkhana in Kandivali (west)
Poisar Gymkhana in Kandivali (west). Pics/Nimesh Dave, Sameer Markande, Satej Shinde, Shadab Khan

Others had problems with the words "turnover", "reputed" and "well-known".

"A company's turnover itself is no guarantee of its credibility," said Pankaj Joshi, chairman, Urban Design Research Institute. "And how do you define 'reputed' and 'well-known'? This policy has fundamental problems and needs to be thrown out."

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