Mumbai: Kandivli locals win back 30,000-sq ft park after 8-year battle

Lokayukta slams Akshara school in Kandivli, for illegally occupying 30,000 square feet space meant for public use, directs MHADA to put up notices informing people that they can start using it

The Lokayukta has ordered that the playground be open from 6 am to 7 pm for the general public. Pics/Satej Shinde
The Lokayukta has ordered that the playground be open from 6 am to 7 pm for the general public. Pics/Satej Shinde

For the city fighting hard to protect its open spaces, here's a win. The Lokayukta has come down heavily on Akshara School in Kandivli's Sector 8 for illegally occupying a nearly 30,000-sq ft playground meant for locals, denying them rightful access to it, from the time it was constructed in 2008.

Acting on the orders issued by justice ML Tahaliyani, a team from MHADA accompanied by the local police entered the school yesterday afternoon to paste a notice that the ground, which was being used as a private property, is now open for all.

Rightful reclamation
In a three-page concise judgment (a copy of which is with mid-day), the Lokayukta states that a notice was issued to MHADA, the actual owners of the plot, to explain its position. In its response, MHADA admitted that its lease agreement states that the playground shall be open for the neighbourhood's children and public.

Also read: Three-storey Mumbai school comes up on mangroves

The Authority has initiated proceedings by issuing a notice to Vidya Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, Nagpur, the trust run by former minister Ranjeet Deshmukh that built the school, stating that action would be taken if the conditions of the agreement are breached.

The Lokayukta has directed that the gates of the playground be kept open from 6 am to 7 pm for the general public. It adds that whosoever prevents MHADA officials from opening the gates will face prosecution for using criminal force against public servants, with an intention to prevent them from doing their duty, and a FIR will be lodged against such offending persons under section 353 of the IPC by the police, who will also file charges against the accused under section 341 (wrongful restraint). Two constables will be deployed at the site to ensure that the order is followed.

People power
The order advocates that MHADA take all necessary steps, such as issuing press releases, and putting up notices at conspicuous places to inform that the ground can be used by children without any fear.

Activist Reji Abraham, president of the United Association for Social Education and Public Welfare, who has been fighting for the cause for over three years, called it a major victory and implementation of the right of the common man to access an open space marked for sports and recreation.

"The school has illegally usurped the playground and misused it… it believes it is above the laws governing common people, courtesy its alleged political connections," said Abraham, who is also a non-officio member of a state government committee for protection and conservation of mangroves in Mumbai.

Officialspeak
When mid-day reached out to the school authorities for their side of the story, we were told that the principal was out of the country, and given the number of their advocate Vivek Shukla. Shukla deemed the entire MHADA action of reclaiming the ground as illegal, amounting to trespassing.

"We have a stay from the high court; the case is sub-judice. We were not given any prior notices or made party to the Lokayukta hearing. All our permissions are in order," he said.

MHADA vice chairman and chief officer Subash Lakhe, however, rubbished Shukla's claims. He said, "We are carrying out the instructions given by the Lokayukta, who had examined all claims and counter-claims since June 2016, when the first order was passed against the school. The action taken by MHADA is apt and in accordance with the lease deed preconditions and guidelines."

Estate manager of MHADA Yogesh Deshmukh, who was present on the site from 12.30 pm to 3 pm, informed that they have put up boards and posters informing the public that as of Monday, the ground is open for all; they have even kept the Charkop police in the loop to ensure security and avoid any untoward incidents.

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