Mumbai: BMC's controversial open space policy passed

The policy was passed by a majority as BJP corporators supported the Sena even though city chief, Shelar, had opposed it

It’s official. The BMC’s controversial open space policy has formally been passed. BJP corporators, undermining the opposition of their own leader Ashish Shelar, supported the Sena, and the policy was passed in the BMC’s general assembly by a majority on Wednesday.

MIG Club at Bandra. As soon as the open space policy was tabled, opposition leaders created a din. Representation pic
MIG Club at Bandra. As soon as the open space policy was tabled, opposition leaders created a din. Representation pic

The BMC came out with the draft of its open space policy, formally known as the RG/PG (recreation ground/ playground) adoption policy, in October after scrapping the controversial Caretaker policy. The policy was passed in the civic Improvements Committee, led by the BJP. However, even the adoption policy ran into much opposition with citizens, activists and politicians pointing out anomalies. They objected to how politicians were given a backdoor entry for retaining the plots they had obtained as caretakers and to the relevance of the policy as a whole. It entailed that corporate houses and organisations were allowed to retain the property with some riders. But after stiff opposition from civic activists, the BJP took one step back last year. City BJP chief Ashish Shelar publicly voiced his objection to it, making the Sena reluctant to table it before the general assembly at the time. Shelar had demanded that it be referred back. Despite his opposition, his own party corporators supported the policy on Wednesday.

As soon as the policy was tabled, opposition leaders created a din in the House. They demanded that the proposal be scrapped altogether. But lacking numbers, they knew they were not going to win.

Asif Zakaria of the Congress said, “The policy has a provision to allow people who had applied before December 2014 to retain their plots. That means all those nine plots given on caretaker basis are gone forever. There is no clarity over commercial use, construction, shutting out the spaces to public. That’s why we had demanded that the policy be scrapped. But the BJP did a complete U-turn.”

The policy was put to voice vote by the Mayor in the house where the Sena-BJP supported it. The commotion went on till 8 pm on Wednesday night.

Activists furious
Shyama Kulkarni, AGNI trustee said, “They have sold our open spaces. They have sold the city’s lungs. Do small NGOs fit into their norms for adopting an open space? The policy has clearly tilted in favour of the influential. But people are not going to forget this. The Sena-BJP will get a befitting reply in the election.”

Even former CIC Shailesh Gandhi, who had been opposing the policy for the past few months, said, “They have practically kidnapped our open spaces. We will push the envelope as far as possible. We will meet the municipal commissioner and even the CM in the matter.”

Allies defend stance
“It’s not us, but it is the opposition who has allowed this policy to be passed. They did not gather enough numbers to oppose it. We had demanded that the policy be referred back but they did not support our demand,” said BJP leader Manoj Kotak in an attempt to cover-up the fact that they acted in contrast to their party leader’s stance.

Sena leader Trushna Vishwasrao said, “We were satisfied with all the safeguards kept in the policy. They will make sure the open spaces are protected. That's why we supported it.”

What next?
There are 1,100 RG/PG in the city. The open space policy simply means that the BMC cannot look after all grounds, hence they will hand them over to interested private parties. Activists fear this will result in precious open spaces being lost for common people and they will be reserved for a select few.

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