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Sena leader threatened me: Balbhavan director

In life, Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray remained a polarising figure. And even after his death, the mercurial neta has not stopped making news, courtesy some of his party colleagues.

MiD DAY had reported yesterday (‘Please don’t take our playground’) about the dissenting voices from among the youngest of the populace against Pune Municipal Corporation’s decision to develop a Bal Thackeray memorial on a part of the Garware Balbhavan playground. Many children and their parents have communicated their disapproval of the proposal to municipal commissioner Mahesh Pathak in the last few days.


Playtime: Kids play at the Garware Balbhavan playground; (inset) Shobha Bhagwat, founder-director of Balbhavan. File Pic

Now, founder-director of Balbhavan Shobha Bhagwat has alleged that Shiv Sena’s group leader in the civic body Ashok Harnawal threatened her on February 18, demanding the organisation vacate the place. Harnawal, who has been fighting for the memorial, had earlier too asked for the Balbhavan land to be vacated, as the contract between Om Charit Trust and PMC expired in 2009.


MiD DAY’s article yesterday highlighting the issue. File Pics

Bhagwat said, “Harnawal came to Balbhavan on Monday afternoon and warned me that he will not let us stay here. ‘If you do not allow us to construct the memorial and art gallery in the name of Bal Thackeray, we will not let you live in this place’, were his exact words.” She conceded that the agreement between the civic body and Om Charitable Trust of the Garwares ended in 2009 and PMC is planning to float another tender.

“Harnawal warned me that if we, for instance, quote Rs 100, he will pay 50,000 to get the place from PMC. ‘We can run Balbhavan by charging a small amount like Rs 50 each from the kids. I would help you get another five-year term at the place, if you cooperate with me. I am also ready to bear the cost of new toys for the kids if there is an understanding between us’, is what Harnawal told me,” said Bhagwat, adding, “We are not charging Rs 500 as fee from the children.”

When contacted, Dr Neelam Gorhe, MLC and spokesperson, Shiv Sena, refused to intervene in the matter. “We shall accept the decision taken by PMC and the political group leaders together. There are two tracts of land and PMC is the final authority. It is impossible that that Harnawal threatened Bhagwat,” she said.

Noted cartoonist and social activist Mangesh Tendulkar backed the Balbhavan playground, and said, “This is not the place for constructing a memorial for Bal Thackeray. Shiv Sena should look for another option. Balasaheb had great affection for kids and he would have never allowed such a project.”

Shobhana Ranade, veteran Gandhian activist and Trustee ofGandhi National Memorial Society, remarked, “PMC is wrong in taking the land back. I am supporting Balbhavan as the cause is very dear to my heart. Children need to play and therefore the playground should not get encroached.

PMC should not forget that kids are the most important part of society.” “This is nothing but an attack on children’s growth and development. Playgrounds are oxygen for any city and there are very few at this moment. It is wrong to acquire the land for a memorial; this can be done elsewhere. In addition, Balbhavan is a pioneering organisation for Maharashtra and has already become a movement. It is ethically wrong to attack this movement,” veteran activist Vidya Bal said.

What municipal commissioner said
“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,” Mahesh Pathak had told MiD DAY, as reported in our February 19 article.

Civic chief speaks
“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 Pune Municipal Corporation’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,” Mahesh Pathak had told MiD DAY, as reported in our February 19 article. 

PMC’s run-ins with BalBhavan
>> Vilas Wadekar, former Congress corporator wanted to convert the place into a junk market. He had made an open declaration in 1988
>> Congress-led PMC wanted to use the place for a ropeway station for Parvati hills in 1990.
>> PMC had planned to use the land for Rajarshi Shahu Memorial in 1994.
>> Water supply was stopped by PMC in 2007, allegedly without informing the authorities of Garware Balbhavan

The other side
Meanwhile, when contacted, Harnawal rejected Bhagwat’s allegations and said, “I was just explaining to her that Balbhavan is using the land despite the agreement having expired in 2009. Backyard of the building is reserved for commercial purposes by PMC and therefore we are using it for the Thackery memorial,” maintaining that the memorial and art gallery was a commercial preposition. “The memorial requires 20 Guntha of land and we are not touching the remaining 22 Guntha of Balbhavan,” he claimed.

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