Allegedly revamped at a cost of Rs 1.25 crore, the Gaondevi Garden in Vakola, Santacruz East, is today a haven for gamblers, alcoholics and drug peddlers.
Renovated in December 2013 using then MLA Kripashankar Singh's funds, the garden constructed by MHADA and maintained by the BMC is no longer visited by women and children from the neighbourhood due to safety concerns.
Activist Anil Verma
When this reporter visited the garden, spread over 5,000 sq ft, he found it littered with discarded liquor bottles, dead rodents and sheer junk. Two groups of men were present at the spot, gambling, while a bunch of boys were smoking in a corner. Additionally, one of the main gates to the garden has been welded shut and blocked by a concrete structure on the other side.
Anil Verma, a local activist who has taken it upon himself to print and distribute leaflets to raise awareness about the decay, says that an alleged sum of Rs 1.25 cr had been utilised from the MLA funds for the revamp. He has also initiated a signature campaign.
“It is surprising that illegal encroachment has been openly allowed, locking the entrance to a public park, built as a common amenity for the general public,” he said. Komal Bhosale, a law student and activist from Vakola, who has been pursuing the issue like Verma, said it was impossible for any family, especially women, to arrive here on leisure.
“It is even more disheartening to see children, who are starved of open spaces, playing in the filth, surrounded by anti-social elements,” she said. Earlier last year, women’s advocacy groups, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) and Akshara, had audited the area for safety, and observed the following problems: unclean and unsafe toilets, inadequate lighting, eve-teasing and gambling. Among their recommendations to curb the same, they had suggested police patrolling and installation of street lights.
Sukhada Rahul Pawar, local municipal councilor of H/East Ward, said she was aware of the anti-social activities in the garden and had written numerous complaints to the BMC and the police. “Drugs are sold and consumed openly by people of all ages, including collegians.
The garden has zero maintenance and is in a pathetic condition. It requires immediate, strict action from the authorities. While funds were allocated for the renovation, none have been provided for maintenance,” complained Pawar, alleging that records of the money spent to renovate the park, ought to be scrutinised for irregularities.