All cities must provide adequate open spaces for its inhabitants. These are the lungs of the city which provide fresh air, playgrounds, recreation grounds and gardens. They are essential to ensure the mental and physical wellbeing of its inhabitants. Unfortunately, Mumbai has less than 2 square meters (sq mts) of open space per person, compared to 9 sq mts, the minimum requirement laid down by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In this extremely limited space, children must play and frolic; everyone must have space for games and sports; those living in small tenements must get some space for leisure; senior citizens, who cannot afford clubs, should find a space to walk, exercise and chat, discuss and reminisce about their lives.
According to the Development Control Regulations (DCR) 1991, the Parks and Gardens Department of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has already taken possession of 1,068 plots covering 1,200 acres of open spaces. These plots must be developed as per their reservations and function accordingly. Some additional plots are also expected to be taken over by the MCGM’s Parks and Gardens Department. Fresh policy guidelines are required for the development of such reserved plots including all plots already in possession and use.
Mumbai is a megacity and the financial capital of India. The MCGM formulates development plans (DPs) in which there are specific reservations for all open spaces such as gardens, recreation grounds, playgrounds and parks. These, in turn, should be developed, redeveloped or refurbished in accordance with their reservation for the access and benefit of general public. The MCGM runs the city by elected representatives to whom citizens have given legitimacy. The bureaucracy also owes their jobs and allegiance to the citizens. There is a need for a policy for Open Spaces, which should among other objectives:
- Increase these spaces.
- Beautify and maintain them to make the citizens’ quality of life better in an equitable manner without any distinction.
- Safeguard these extremely valuable properties from encroachment and private acquisition.
- Provide for the recreation, sports and leisure needs of all its citizens.
A policy must attempt to serve these objectives. Here is an attempt to suggest such a policy.
Assumptions and key guidelines:
The MCGM is charged under Section 61 with “the maintenance of a municipal office and of all public monuments and other property vesting in the corporation”. It also has the power to make laws as per Section 461 which states: The corporation may from time to time make by-laws, not inconsistent with this Act, with respect to the following matters:
(5) securing the protection of public parks, gardens and open spaces vested in or under the control of the corporation from injury or misuse, regulating their management and the manner in which they may be used by the public and; providing for the proper behaviour of persons in them;
Thus, it is a duty which must be performed. It is recognised that it would be a good idea to have the participation of citizens in this. There were some earlier policies by which MCGM’s Open spaces have been abducted by some private parties and such mistakes must not be repeated.
The MCGM should take all its Open Spaces, which were earlier given on caretaker or adoption policies under its physical control. No Municipal Open Spaces should be given to any private party. MCGM must recognise and accept its responsibility to create recreation grounds, play grounds, parks and gardens. It may do this by giving contracts for providing various needs to protect and maintain them.
Any officer of MCGM who gives any legal rights to any third party in any Open Spaces should be charged under Section 13 (1) (c ) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The MCGM should display on its website complete details of agreements with contractors and also the bills and payment details, along with the inspection reports of MCGM officers.
To ensure proper maintenance of the work MCGM should appoint Audit and Monitoring Agencies for three years at a time.
I) Eligibility criteria for Audit and Monitoring Agency:
Applicant maybe one or more of the following:
- Association OR Federations of the local housing societies
- Resident associations
- Business associations
- Associations of shopkeepers
- NGO’s from respective electoral wards.
- Public sector undertakings (PSU’s)
- Government Institutions
- Institutions/Bodies which organise or sponsor sporting events (having presence at administrative ward levels)
- Educational institutes (having presence at administrative ward levels)
- Corporate houses
II) Plot eligibility:
- Plots developed by the municipal corporation
- Plots developed using MP/MLA funds or District Planning and Development Committee (DPDC) funds (under guardian minister) or corporator fund
- Plots developed and preserved using funds from private institutions.
- Any other plot which is reserved as Open Space.
III) Public outreach and intimation for selecting Audit & Monitoring Agency:
Every ward officer with the advice of the zonal garden superintendent or his deputy should prepare a list of recreation grounds, playgrounds, gardens and parks. Such a list should be put up on the notice board of the ward office as well as the MCGM website. The lists should also be published in leading English and Marathi newspapers.
IV) Submission requirements:
All eligible parties interested in acting as Audit & Monitoring Agency for the aforementioned plots should within 30 days of the public notice by the MCGM, submit an application along with the following documents:
- Statement of accounts/audited financial reports of last 3 years
- Documents to establish credentials of NGO’s
- Experience statement giving its experience
- The proposed plan for development/redevelopment/refurbishment of the plot. A separate maintenance plan for the same period is also to be provided.
If there is more than one institution volunteering to be an Audit & Monitoring Agent, an appropriate mechanism should be devised and not more than two such agents should be approved for a plot. The MCGM may then float tenders for the development, maintenance of the Open Space after finalising development and maintenance requirement with the Audit & Monitoring Agency. The MCGM should select the appropriate contractor and supervise the work. It should also provide a copy of the agreements with each contractor, the inspection report of a MCGM officer and the bills presented by the contractor to the Audit & Monitoring Agent within seven days. The responsibility of the Audit and Monitoring Agent must be to ensure the Open Spaces are properly secured and maintained. They should also audit and monitor work of the contractor. They should submit a report on the 1st and 15th of every month to the Assistant Commissioner, in which they must also report any deficiencies of the contractor’s work. The Assistant Commissioner can either take penal action against the contractor, or put his remarks if he feels that the Audit and Monitoring Committee’s report is not reasonable. If there is a disagreement in two consecutive reports, the matter should be raised to the Deputy Municipal Commissioner and if there is a disagreement in four reports, the Additional Commissioner should take a decision. If the Audit and Monitoring Committee fails to submit its report for two consecutive fortnights, it should be replaced by another. The Audit and Monitoring Committee’s report should also be displayed on the website of MCGM.
The primary responsibility of maintaining and developing the Open Spaces should rest with the MCGM with the Audit & Monitoring Agency providing free assistance.
(Shailesh Gandhi served as Central Information Commissioner under the RTI Act, 2005, during 18 September 2008 to 6 July 2012. He is a graduate in Civil Engineering from IIT-Bombay. Before becoming a full time RTI activist in 2003, he sold his packaging business. In 2008, he was conferred the Nani Palkhivala Memorial Award for civil liberties.)