Mumbai: NCP leader's school gobbles up open space, and claims it is protecting it
While locals allege school has destroyed half-an-acre of trees next to Versova mangroves, NCP leader Narendra Verma claims he is “saving plot” from encroachments
Even as this Andheri school teaches its students environmental science, just outside the walls of the classroom, it is setting a completely different example — replacing half an acre of trees with concrete and paver blocks, just so it can make a free parking lot for the school buses. What’s worse, the construction is going on right next to the Versova mangroves, which is now at risk of shrinking due to the concretisation.
A local resident sent this 2004 picture of the plot, which shows the presence of lots of trees at the spot
Residents of Sardar Vallabhai Patel Nagar in Andheri West have alleged that Janki Devi Public School has completely usurped the stretch of land behind the school compound, and won’t even allow the public any access, even though it is open land. However, the school authorities said that far from encroaching upon the land, they were ensuring no one else could encroach there, and they even had permission from MHADA.
Levelled stretch behind Janki Devi Public School with a road and parking lot. Residents said the nearby mangroves are also now under threat. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Locals provided pictures of the area from 2004 to and pointed out that there were several trees at the plot that had since disappeared. Instead of trees, now dozens of buses stand on the stretch, which has been concretised. Questioned about this, the school claimed they were simply concretising the area to resolve the dust problem.
Not only have all the trees been wiped out (in the circled area), but the school is now laying concrete and paver blocks all over the land to build a parking lot for buses there. This will also put the nearby mangroves at risk
One of the school’s trustees is NCP Leader Narendra Varma, and locals claim he is using his political clout to grab the land for the school.
A resident from the Shiv Kutir Building said, “There were trees and mangroves in the MHADA plot of which Varma is the official caretaker, but in last 10-15 years they have all been cleared, and the school is now parking its buses there.”
Locals claimed that in 2003, the school even installed a gate to keep people out of the plot, but after the residents registered a complaint at the local ward office, the gate was demolished. “We have been following this issue for over 10 years, and over the years, the mangroves and trees that were there on this plot have been wiped out. The NCP leader who owns the school is encroaching upon the MHADA plot in the name of being a caretaker. It’s an open space, so people should be allowed to enter, but he doesn’t allow any of the local residents to enter the plot where he is illegally parking his school buses,” alleged Seema Sahu, a resident of a nearby building.
Mangroves at risk
Locals from the nearby residential societies – Ankita building, Sweet Home building and Shiv Kutir building –teamed up with the Friends of Environment Community, and have been fighting this issue for over a decade. Now, they are concerned that the school is going to threaten the nearby mangroves as well.
Among the activists is BJP Mumbai secretary Vivekanand Gupta, who said, “It is a clear violation of a 2006 order by the high court that states that no construction can be done within 50 metres of mangroves. Here, the road is literally touching the mangroves. The school is using public land for personal benefit. Two days ago, I visited the spot and informed the police, but no action was taken.”
The other side
NCP Leader Narendra Verma, who is also the trustee of the school, said, “We were the ones who had complained in 2002 when an encroachment had taken place on the land. We are the caretakers of this plot, and it is because of us that encroachment does not happen anymore. The local residents are spreading wrong information saying that we have destroyed the mangroves and trees at the plot. Had there been any mangroves there, we would have not got MHADA’s permission to be the caretaker.” “We are fixing paver blocks on the plot so that the issue of dust is solved. A lot of dust used to come into the school, and during the monsoon, there used to be a problem with all the mud. We are simply beautifying the area and have all the proper permissions,” he added. MHADA officials remained unavailable for comment on this issue.
Senior Police Inspector Kiran Kale from Versova police station said, “After the residents complained to us, we visited the spot but did not find any tree was cut. We have already written to MHADA and the suburban collector’s office and have asked them to conduct a visit at the site. Based on their report, further action will be initiated.”