Mumbai is a city, which offers diversity in various forms, and one such form is its culture. In 2014-15, I had proposed for a cultural policy for the city through my notice of motion (NoM), which was accepted by the then Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte, who allocated Rs25 lakh in the budget that year.
Apart from that I was told that the subway near Vasudeo Balwant Phadke Chowk, near Metro theatre can be used as a space to promote art and this proposal somewhere lost its validity, due to the lack of follow-up and also bureaucratic tactics.
I started searching for the file of the said proposal in November 2014 and finally, by mid-January 2015, I was able to trace it. I immediately convened a joint meeting with the Additional Municipal Commissioner (AMC) Pallavi Darade and the staff of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art (JJ School), who showed their willingness to use the space.
The primary objective was that in Mumbai, the art galleries have exorbitant cost and also their availability is a major concern. So this space can be used by the students of art or the upcoming artists in the city and it will provide them a platform to exhibit their skills.
It was proposed in the meeting that the artist will not be charged any fees for using this space. I was also able to get the consent from 'A' Ward officers to have special lights and protective panels for paintings, cabinets to keep the paintings safely in the evening, sitting arrangements for the artist near the display and extra security guards during day time to prevent any harm to the gallery. It was an initiative, which took me three joint meetings with JJ School, AMC and staff of ‘A’ ward and it reached to the stage of having a final agreement or memorandum of understanding (MoU). Unfortunately, due to the reluctance of former office bearers of students’ association at JJ School, the project was stalled.
I had spent three months to get this project approved and also under my supervision had a pilot display project in the subway. Along with the staff of BMC, I spent five hours to get the pilot on the floor. Finally, as I realised that the JJ School would not be interested, I had thrown it open for other art associations, but again, I did not get much response.
My sincere attempt was to carve a cultural space for Mumbai in the subway space, instead it continues to get infested by the hawkers. Moreover I was emphasising on making the space available free of cost to the artists.
As per the recent development, I am informed that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has asked the Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta to allot the space in subways of Metro theatre to Women's self-help group (SHG), who can have their stalls and sell the products. The BMC had already given notice of eviction to hawkers from the subway near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) station. However, due to the directions from the Chief Minister, the BMC will help in having this space utilised for commercial activities of SHGs.
I sincerely support Women's SHGs group, as they do require such encouragement. However, I have the data that shows the BMC has more than 25 markets constructed in Mumbai that are lying vacant. These markets are as good as two-storey and located in many posh areas. So far, the BMC has failed to start any commercial activity there, but will soon start a commercial activity in the subway. These unused market spaces can be allotted to the Women's SHGs or rather the Maharashtra government should find a space for big establishment and promote these activities on a sincere gesture rather than depriving the rights of the pedestrians and setting a wrong precedent of opening markets in subways.
I am still trying to make this space as a cultural space and I hope to succeed in it.
Let's talk development and act on it.
(Prof Avkash Jadhav holds an MA in History from the University of Mumbai. Being in academics for the past 20 years, Prof Jadhav, at present, works in the Dept. of History at St Xavier's College. He has been Nominated Councillor in the BMC, representing the academic section, since 2012. Over the past four years, he has suggested various policies for the benefit of the Mumbaikars and for administrative accountability.)