Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) commissioner Mahesh Pathak has managed to earn the criticism of a singular section of the populace — preteens. The civic body’s decision to develop a Bal Thackeray memorial on a segment of the Garware Balbhavan playground has not gone down well with the kids and their parents.
“Where do we play if our land is taken away,” is the question on the lips of hundreds of children, some of whom have articulated this before the authorities. Pathak, who is also a member of Balbhavan’s executive body, has received more than few letters on the issue in the last few days. Many parents are now planning to organise a demonstration against what they see as grave injustice.
“If you take the land than where shall we play?” asked Tamanna in her letter to the municipal commissioner. “Sir, please don’t take away our playground,” requested Poonam Sachdev. “Building Balasaheb’s memorial is good, but not for us because we’ll have no place to play,” remarked Anu Agashe. “The children’s playground should remain,” requested Prachi Kale. “I have sweet memories of the ground. Please don’t take them away from me,” said Koel Sancheti (names of the kids have been changed).
The children’s parents too have urged the municipal commissioner to reconsider the decision by writing a letter. “If nothing happens, we’ll have to agitate,” said one of them. Shobha Bhagwat, founder-director, Balbhavan, said, “We are not against the creation of the memorial. But it should not be done at the cost of our children’s playground. Playing is the right of every child and nobody can take that away.
Our two-acre plot has been officially approved by PMC’s General Body in 1979 on the occasion of celebration of International Year of the Child. The Balbhavan’s sports-cum-personality development activity has inspired over 200 organisation in Pune alone.” Meanwhile, Shiv Sena group leader Ashok Harnawal has championed the issue of the memorial by asking for the Balbhavan land to be vacated, as the contract between Om Charit Trust and PMC has expired in 2009. “Balbhavan is illegally using the land, because it can only lay claim on the part where its building stands. The remaining plot belongs to the civic body,” he argued.
RT Shinde, deputy commissioner, land acquisition department, PMC, said, “The agreement between the civic body and the private trust was only for the period between 1993 and 2009. Balbhavan can retain the land only if it is ready to pay the rent as per the new tendering procedure. At present it is paying Rs 11,000 per year, and this is likely to go up.”
“We are not asking for the entire land. The backside has not been given to Balbhavan. We had given the tract at the front of the building for the playground on minimal rate of Rs 11,015 per year, whereas Balbhavan is charging Rs 500 from each child. The contract of using the land is already over. We’ll make a new contract, which will be as per fresh set of rules.
This is PMC’s land and I have to look into the term and conditions that existed earlier. Similarly, Shiv Sena had asked for a part of the land for an art gallery. The issue has to be tackled by the respective departments like building permission, and land acquisition. Shiv Sena has to decide whether that plot is adequate for them or not,” the municipal commissioner said.
Vandana Chavan, Rajya Sabha MP, Nationalist Congress Party, said, “It is wrong to take away the playground for erecting a memorial. Even Bal Thackeray would not have approved of this idea. I will put my opinion before the municipal commissioner and also submit a letter on this.”
Mayor Vaishali Bankar too made her disapproval of the proposal apparent. “Nobody can use a children’s playground for other purposes. Our leader and deputy CM Ajit Pawar had categorically instructed us that schools and playgrounds should be left for kids without imposing any conditions.”
Incidentally, PMC’s General Body is expected to sanction the memorial in the next two days for which Rs 70 lakh will be diverted from the ‘other expenses’ in the municipal budget. “If the proposal gets approved, we may lose about an acre of land, where we have tents, hoops, tree houses etc for kids. We already have a small tract of land and the new issue will add to our woes,” lamented Shobha Bhagwat.
‘New lease of life’
BJP corporators Smita Vaste and Madhuri Sahasrabudhe had made a resolution for the PMC General Body meeting over the Garware Balbhavan playground issue. They urged the PMC commissioner to renew the contract of 27-year old Balbhavan because of its noble efforts towards personality development of children by providing them an area to play and also involving them in cultural activities. Vaste had also approved a skating rink project for children in Balbhavan.