Garden audit: South Mumbai is nervous, Bandra spoilsport, Lalbaug grateful, Oshiwara model
After BMC ordered 23 public parks to be open at all hours, mid-day did a sundown tour of seven gardens to judge them on safety, facilities, hygiene and residents' reaction
Last Saturday, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) announced that it would keep 23 gardens in the city open through the day i.e. 24x7. The move came after Joint Commissioner Ashutosh Salil had held a meeting with NGOs and naturalists to discuss Garden Policy. Most participants expressed the need for more hours for gardens.
The BMC immediately took a decision on August 27, to revoke the three-hour break, which was from 12 pm to 3 pm to extend the operational hours of gardens in the city between 13 and 16 hours. Since then most city gardens started staying open from 6 am to 10 pm, without break.
A round table conference mid-day held in July 2018 with resident associations, BMC representatives and corporators set the wheel turning, with then municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta extending timings for parks, and current commissioner Praveen Pardeshi announcing the 24/7 policy.
Last week, the BMC extended it to 24 hours for 23 gardens in the city. "We had noted suggestions and objections regarding our garden policy and said we would accommodate it. The extension of timings could be implemented immediately," said Salil.
While at some parks, that mid-day visited last week in order to gauge reactions and security measures, citizens had no idea that hours had been extended, at others they weren't too thrilled with the idea.
It was only Lalbaug residents who welcomed the decision to extend garden timings after 10 pm. A positive result of the mid-day Garden Audit we launched in 2018 to survey the city's open spaces on safety and facilities, was that we noticed that most gardens remain well maintained.
Except one, each had adequate security.
Manoranjan Park, Lalbuag Time of Visit: 11.10 pm
Amid the densely populated area on the east side of Chinchpokli, there is a small open space with adequate light poles, a ground and a well maintained open gym. The locals know it as the Bombay Gas company plot.
The 4,500 square metre area, gives much needed space to everybody—children, youngsters, women and senior citizens—living in nearby buildings and chawls. We went there around 11.10 pm.
The whole park can be seen at one glance from the gate. One security guard was present near the gate and senior citizens, women and college going boys were seated in different parts of the garden. "We have a group of 15 women who come here daily after dinner.
That is the only time we get to interact and it is the only space we have," said Suhasini Salavi. Sunanda Rokade and Lata Bhondve (in pic) said that the garden remains packed till midnight and often, there isn't space available to sit. They welcomed the decision of more opening hours, but feel it will be misused by couples or alcoholics after midnight.
A group of college students expressed joy for the 24-hour garden policy. "Though the official timings were up to 9 pm, the garden used to stay open till midnight," said Prakash Parab, 65. Dattaram Apradh, a senior citizen, added that there isn't any security threat as "we can watch the garden from our windows. But, we see only one guard round the clock."
"There was a demand to keep it open until midnight. So, now we are relieved by the decision. There is one guard at every shift and we will hire one more," said an officer from F south ward.
Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Garden, Chunabhatti, near railway station Time of Visit: 12.15 am
With tall buildings on one side and a slum on the other, the 2,000-sq m garden provides some relief to the area. Though the garden is small in comparison to most, it has a dense canopy of trees planted in rows. However, this means that the light from lamposts doesn't reach the ground. There is also a small composting pit on the premises for processing garden waste such as tree branches and dry leaves.
At the time of our visit, very few people were on the road and two guys were closing their ice-cream cart near the gate. There wasn't any sign of a security guard inside the garden. The board inside the garden did not announce the new 24-hour timings.
The garden is divided into two parts by a walkway and another entry gate at the opposite end. The garden is adjacent to VN Purav Marg and locals use the walkway as a shortcut. Bottles of alcohol and plastic glasses were seen scattered in the garden. In one corner, a few men were seated. However, when we tried to speak to them, they slipped away.
Chandrakant Palav (in pic), a student of ayurveda at a Sion college, who was going to the other side by taking a short cut of the garden. "There is no security guard in the garden, but the residential colony [next door] has two guards, one of whom sits just outside another gate of the garden which opens into the colony," he said. "There are security guards appointed for the garden. I will make an inquiry," said Manish Valanju, assistant commissioner of L ward.
Tata Garden, Breach Candy, adjacent to Bhulabhai Desai Road Time of Visit: 10.15 pm
The garden hit headlines earlier this year, with news that a large portion of the garden would be required for the interconnection of the coastal road, raising hackles of local residents who opposed the plan. Popular, not just among Breach Candy residents, but others from the city who come here on the weekends to enjoy its scenic beauty and the sea view it provides, the garden covers an area of 8,000 sq m. We reached the garden at 10.15 pm, by when the usually crowded garden was nearly empty.
The garden had only one security guard, posted at the gate. As only one guard had been appointed, the ward office instructed one out of four gardeners to work as a security guard.
The lamp posts give adequate light for walkers, but is insufficient to identify someone from a 10-metre distance. We met four regular visitors—Dr Hemen Shah, Mukesh Shah, Rajesh Dedia and Bhanubhai Patel.
They weren't aware of the new hours as there was no board of announcement at the gate. "The garden used to shut at 10.15 pm. It's good that they extend the time beyond 10 pm.
But there isn't any need to stretch it beyond 11 pm," said Rajesh Dedia. Mumtaj Ansari, yoga teacher who was meditating in one of the corners, pointed out that the light poles weren't operational in that corner.
"The garden is secure. But, who will come here, after 12? Certainly not women," she said, that CCTV cameras would help provide security.
Kamlakarpant Walawalkar Garden, New Link Rd, Oshiwara Time of Visit: 1.30 pm
If you go to Walawalkar Garden, you will notice a board outside announcing 'The park has been open 24x7 for citizens'. The park has been open round the clock since September 9, and the management has even hired an additional five guards to provide adequate security through the day in shifts.
"Currently, we have 15 guards who are working in three shifts. Per shift, we have five guards stationed at the different corners of the park while one keeps an eye at the entrance," said a guard. "We are getting many women post 9 pm after office hours, so we are doing our best to provide adequate security," he added.
The park also has an adequate number of lamp posts within a distance of 10 metres of each other, which provide enough light at night. "Initially, I thought they were wasting electricity, but later I realised that it has been opened around the clock," said Padamaja Mehra.
Ganjawala garden, Borivli West Time of Visit: 2 am
The garden is just five minutes by foot from Borivli station and is well maintained. There wasn't any display of the new timings. The main gate is on the footpath and the iron gate was shut, but not locked. As we entered the garden around 2 am, a pack of dogs ran towards us, barking and alerting the security guard.
"The garden has been open round the clock from Monday, so we didn't lock the gate. But no one comes at these hours," said Rajkumar Gupta, accompanied by another security guard. Earlier, there was only one security guard per shift, but after the Monday move, two guards have been deployed for the night.
Gupta added, "This is the only garden in all of Borivli that is open throughout the day. Officers from the ward had come at midnight a day before [the announcement] to inspect the garden and instructed them to keep it open." The garden is well maintained and used by hundreds of morning walkers, joggers. There are poles of light near the wall. The shape of the garden is not even and so some parts in the middle don't get adequate light.
"There haven't been too many visitors as people are still not aware of the new timings and also the rains," said Ramakant Biradar, assistant commissioner of R central ward. He added that they have informed the local police station about opening of the ground and requested them to take more rounds at night.
Lala Tulsiram Udyan, Devidayal Road, Opp BEST depot, Mulund West Time of Visit: 12.30 pm
There's no board announcing new timings here, but local residents read it in the papers and started coming in. The park covers 6,540 sq m and though the BMC has kept security guards round the clock, when mid-day visited the site, the guard was out (12.30 – 3 pm).
However, four workers from the Garden Maintenance Department were cleaning the area. The park also had adequate number of lamp posts inside within a distance of 10 feet each.
Garden maintainer, Hari Janardan Pawar, who works from 7 am to 6 pm, said, "The elderly occupy the benches to read newspapers or meet up. Earlier, it used be shut till 5 pm, but now as it is open all the time, senior citizens come here to relax." While the toilet is in a bad state, the rest of the garden is in good condition.
The ground is level and one can even walk barefoot on the walkway, which is cleaned regularly. Pawar added, "We clean it at least thrice a day so nobody complains about stickiness and muddiness."
Dagdu Kanskar, 59, who came for a walk in the afternoon and later rested inside the shed when the rain started, said: "This is my fourth day, coming here at 3 pm. We welcome this initiative [24x7 timings] happily. Some friends of mine will soon join me."
Rao Saheb Patwardhan Garden, Bandra West, Opposite National College Time of Visit: 1 am
This 18,000-sq m garden in Bandra is among the city's most well developed, and well-maintained open spaces. The area has many food restaurants, bars, and lounge. When the mid-day team reached the garden, one could see the nightlife in the suburb was still buzzing. But, the main gate of the garden was closed. There was no board announcing the new timings.
Two security guards were seated inside, in front of the gate. On enquiring, one security guard, Appasaheb Sardesai (in pic, left), said though the BMC had decided to keep the garden open for 24 hours, the decision had not been implemented. The garden shuts after 10 pm.
"Residents are opposing it citing issues of security and miscreants. So the ward office decided to not open for 24 hours as of now," said another guard. "After extending the hours [in the afternoon], the garden is being misused by the public.
The toilets are used by beggars and hawkers, and they end up breaking the flush tank and dirtying the space," said Sunil Khosla, resident. He added that the number of visitors increased after BMC started free entry and the toilets are not sufficient.
Local corporator Swapna Mhatre said the locals opposed the move due to security concerns. mid-day tried to contact ward officer Sharad Ughade but he didn't respond.
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