Over 20 years behind schedule, the ghost of Bal Gangadhar Tilak Amphitheatre, also known as Rang Mandir, rises once again with just five days remaining for the new deadline on August 31.
Obtained under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, a letter from the BMC states that a representative of the developer was summoned to their office on November 3 and 16 last year and were given an undertaking that the construction work will be completed by August 31, 2012. It also states that a BMC engineer will be deputed on the site to monitor the progress of the construction.
Earlier in March 2010, Sunday Mid Day had exposed how a proposed 1,000-seater amphitheatre to be built by developers K Raheja Foundation on a land measuring 3,950 square metres, off Linking Road at Bandra, was years behind schedule (Rang Mandir: Redevelopment or sham? Dated 3/1/2010). The delay had also resulted in revenue loss of crores for the BMC.
SMD is in possession of another letter, received on August 21 this year, which was issued after a meeting was held between the local Alms of H West ward and Additional Municipal Commissioner (W) Manisha Mhaiskar, which states that a showcause notice will be given to the developer, if they fail to meet the deadline as stipulated by a High Court Order.
The letter also asked authorities to look into the allegations of the citizens that the development plans did not stick to the one they had approved.
Aftab Siddique, a Bandra-based activist, alleged that the main objection of the concerned citizens was why the defaulter developer’s agreement had not terminated. Also, why the BMC had not agreed to increase the lease rent, in a scenario where the caretaker has made changes on the construction site beyond approved plans and the land prices have sky rocketed in the last 20 years.
“It is surprising how the BMC, which has already lost crores of rupees owing to the delay in the project, instead of rectifying their mistakes is all set to settle again for such a small lease amount. Much smaller auditoriums in the suburbs charge over Rs 75,000 for a single day. So the question, is the redevelopment initiated for the common man or for the benefit of the developer? After the amphitheatre opens up to the public, the government has been allowed to use it free of cost only for up to 20 days in a year, which is hardly a good deal compared to the cost of land, which runs up to crores of rupees,” said Siddique.
He added that, the BMC had allowed a concrete structure to come up in the name of an amphitheatre. “We were told at the meeting that the developer has also been allowed to construct an additional floor and an Art Gallery for commercial use,” he alleged.
Anil Joseph, chairperson, Perry Cross Road residents Association, also stated that it is vital that the civic authorities ensure that those entrusted with the responsibility of developing open spaces fulfill their obligations, as per the agreement. “The city is already starved of open spaces and it appears that vacant BMC plots are just waiting to be encroached upon for commercial use,” he said.
When contacted Additional Municipal Commissioner (WS), Manisha Mhaiskar, stated that the BMC would stand by the affidavit given by the builder to the Hon. High Court, which assures that the project would be completed by August 31, 2012. She stated that appropriate steps would be taken if the developer is unable to comply with his commitments. “We shall cross the bridge when we reach there “ she said.
Earlier, a senior architect at K Raheja Foundation had stated, on condition of anonymity, that there was an internal family dispute, which was responsible for the delay.
SMD’s site visit
SMD visited the site yesterday and found that an unpainted, scaffolded building that was far from complete. The new wing adds a tremendous change in the landscape, but makes it look like a mall, rather than an amphitheatre