mid-day editorial: Don't open public spaces to misuse

The contentious open spaces policy was passed on Wednesday by the BMC, despite many objections by a slew of NGOs and common citizens. Now, nearly 1,500 plots of land across Mumbai, designated as gardens, playgrounds and recreation grounds, are up for adoption by corporates, individuals, NGOs and residents’ associations.

Several green activists and concerned citizens now have their worst fears realised. While there will be no change to the status quo for lands that were previously adopted, for the new plots, one of the most contentious aspects of this policy is that the BMC can pick bidders based on financial factors.

It is unfortunate that this battle by citizens to save open spaces has come to naught. In the end, the people were fighting for what is rightfully theirs. One has to feel sorry for citizens who have to keep petitioning the authorities to stop open spaces from being taken away, only to fail. Activists had pointed out quite rightly that the BMC has enough funds to maintain open grounds in the city. So, there was no need to give them up for adoption to private players. Though this may reduce the burden on the civic authorities, there is credible danger that private players will now have the licence and power to stop certain persons from accessing the grounds.

These fears are not unfounded, history is replete with examples of grounds slowly, but surely, squeezing people out of public spaces by building clubhouses or structures that restrict entry in different ways, finding loopholes in the no-construction rules.

Instead, the BMC should have been solely responsible for grounds in the city. Factors like security and maintenance would have been the onus of the corporation, but a special committee of citizens could have assisted the authorities by ensuring cleanliness and apprising them of any untoward activities or attempted encroachment. This partnership of the people and civic authorities would have worked better than leaving the land open to misuse.

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