Mumbai: Has BMC parked enough funds for its gardens?

Activists say BMC should have set aside more than Rs 75 crore for the upkeep of the 216 gardens it is taking back after the backlash from the recent open spaces policy

After facing backlash over its open spaces policy last year, the BMC is now taking back all the gardens it had given for adoption, but has set aside only Rs 75 crore for them in its budget for 2016-17. Quite a few open space crusaders mid-day spoke to weren’t convinced this was adequate.

The Maheshwari Nagar Federation has been maintaining the Vrindavan garden in Andheri East for almost 10 years, and is among the 36 organisations that has received notice to hand the plot back. File pic
The Maheshwari Nagar Federation has been maintaining the Vrindavan garden in Andheri East for almost 10 years, and is among the 36 organisations that has received notice to hand the plot back. File pic

The total outlay for the Garden Department is Rs 500 crore this year, up from last year’s Rs 484.87 crore, which was then reduced to Rs 428.51 crore. This year’s budget includes Rs 46.53 crore for the development of 30 gardens — two in the island city, 17 in the eastern suburbs and 11 in the western suburbs. Some of these projects include the Energy Park at Kandivli, a football ground near D-Mart in Malad, upgradation of the Purandare stadium at Naigaon, the traffic park at Ghatkopar, etc. In addition, the budget also includes a provision for the proposed revamp of the Byculla zoo, for the development of animal enclosure, expansion in the Mafatlal Mill area, etc.

However, a very small portion of this has been assigned for the upkeep of the 216 gardens the BMC is now taking back from the various trusts, NGOs, citizens’ groups and corporates that were managing it on adoption basis. Expectations were high from the BMC in the backdrop of the open space controversy and citizens expected the civic body to set aside a heftier amount.

“If they have kept aside only Rs 75 crore for the adopted open spaces, what are they going to do with the rest of the money? They are not even developing any major gardens this year. And they are doing this after taking away perfectly well-maintained gardens from private organisations. Let’s hope the gardens don’t fall into disrepair,” said Shyama Kulkarni, a civic activist from Bandra.

Another acitivist, Nikhil Desai, explained, “Rs 75 crore is inadequate for these adopted open spaces because they have not taken the condition of these spaces into account. A lot of them have illegal constructions, which the BMC will have to demolish. Several horticulture works are in disrepair, play areas must be broken. All of this will have to be restored by the BMC; they should have set aside more money at least for the first year.”

However, Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta disagreed. “Those who feel this provision is not enough should explain to us how,” he said.

The city has a total of 1,068 open spaces, including recreation grounds, playgrounds, parks, etc. Together they make up 1,200 acres. According to an estimate created by the NGO NAGAR, the capital costs for development of a garden is approximately R90 crore while the maintenance cost is around Rs 108 crore (for gardening, security, wages, water and electricity bills). The total cost comes up to about R198 crore for all open spaces.

No consensus
NAGAR convenor Nayana Kathpalia said, “I can’t say if the budget is adequate or not because we don’t know the exact area of these 216 gardens. They are of varying sizes and therefore it is difficult to tell if R75 crore is enough.”

However, according to Shailesh Gandhi, an open space activist and former Chief Information Commissioner, Rs 75 crore seems to be adequate. “According to the estimate drawn by the NGO NAGAR, R200 crore is required to maintain 1,200 acres of open space. By that logic, Rs 0.16 crore is required for the maintenance of each space, and Rs 34.56 crore for the maintenance of 216 spaces. They have doubled this amount, so it is great.”

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