One of Mumbai's oldest open space warriors calls the BMC's bluff

Nayana Kathpalia, trustee of NGO NAGAR, has been battling for open spaces in Mumbai since 2000, explains why she feels the current policy is unacceptable

Now, we have yet another open spaces policy that has gone back to the Improvements Committee, following objections and suggestions by a group of city NGOs with reference to certain conditions and clauses. Our NGO NAGAR, has been battling for open spaces since 2000, especially the privatization of public land, building of clubs and thereby, restricting the entry of public into those grounds.

Nayana Kathpalia

This current policy too is completely unacceptable. Earlier, we had something called a Caretaker policy, which the MCGM says they have discarded and have only the adoption policy. However, this current policy says that those who had adopted open spaces and have applied for caretaker status, may now be considered for getting the caretaker status!

The evaluation criteria for the adoption is extremely confused and speaks of stipulations like financial turnover of Rs 2 - 3 crore to make an NGO eligible for adopting. This smacks of favouring the commercially well-funded organisations as no NGO will have this kind of money. In fact, the BMC has the money to maintain these open spaces and one is wondering why do they want private players to adopt them?

The civic authorities need approximately Rs 108 crore to maintain the12,000 acres stated in the policy. We have arrived at this conclusion by doing a calculation factoring in expenses incurred in maintain the Oval Maidan and the Dhote Udyan at Mahim. The MCGM’s current budget for gardens is Rs. 200 crore so they have the money. What are they going to do with that money, if the spaces are given for adoption?

The BMC is doing a good job maintaining grounds like the Hanging Gardens, Cooperage Band Stand etc. What we propose is the BMC does its duty by looking after their own open spaces and keep these grounds open to the public throughout the day. The local stakeholder citizens can be a neighbourhood watch with eyes-on-site. They will be happy to monitor the maintenance and to report to the ward office of any nuisance or aberration. This is the way the partnership can go forward and the citizens will feel they have a stake in Mumbai’s public space.

In Tuesday’s meeting, a number of NGOs raised concerns and objections to BJP’s Ashish Shelar and Mr. Srinivas, The Additional Municipal Commissioner, who seemed to have understood the sentiments expressed across the board. The policy seems to be hugely convoluted and it needs to be simpler. The crux of the matter is protecting our open spaces, keeping them open through the day, safe, clean, neat and tidy. Above all, all RG/PG/Parks, Gardens must be declared non-buildable. It is as simple as that. We are not against policies, per se. Of course, we must have a policy but we need a more people-friendly, easy to decode policy. In the end, it is a relentless battle to keep open spaces open and accessible to the public. But it is a fight well worth the time, and effort in a space-starved city like ours.

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