mid-day editorial: Let us protect our open spaces

Every day brings fresh reports of how the already limited open, green spaces in the city are systematically being replaced by a concrete jungle instead. Yesterday, this paper carried a front-page report about an Andheri school that has replaced half-an-acre of trees with concrete and paver blocks, just so it can make a free parking lot for school buses. This construction is now also a threat to the Versova mangroves, which is right next to the site.

Locals from Sardar Vallabhai Patel Nagar in Andheri (W) alleged that the management of Janki Devi Public School has usurped the stretch of land behind the school compound, and won't even allow the public any access, even though it is open land. The school authorities claim that they are keeping away encroachers.
Whatever be the truth, this is one more example of how an open space is lost to the citizens.

The same pattern keeps repeating across the city. In some cases, a hoarding suddenly appears, announcing that the plot is being developed. At other times, the encroachment begins with one small structure, which if unchecked, slowly gobbles up the entire green space.

Sometimes, when trees are cut and a citizen raises his voice, he is told that the tree is being cut because it is obstructing traffic, or is old and might pose a danger to pedestrians if it falls. In some cases, this is true. More often than not, it is just an excuse. But figuring out the truth is often beyond the reach pf the common man because of many reasons.

Most people don't know which avenues they can use to verify such information, and others simply don't have the time to follow up. It is time to give citizens easier access to the authorities and a clearer path to follow in case they think a plot of land is at risk. Their complaints must be taken cognizance of in the early stages itself. It might become too late once the construction is already done.

On the people's part, it is only eternal vigilance that can save the few open spaces left in Mumbai. Recognise flimsy excuses, and since there is strength in numbers, form a group to combat any attempt to take over spaces.

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