Bombay Municipal Corporation appears to believe that the open spaces in Mumbai are orphans and hence should be given away on adoption or caretaker basis
We have heard of adoption of orphans. On an adoption being completed the parents have the same rights as a normal parent and also effective control. Bombay Municipal Corporation appears to believe that the open spaces in Mumbai are orphans and hence should be given away on adoption or caretaker basis. This corrupt idea was mooted a few years back and since there was a public outcry its implementation was stopped. It is claimed that BMC wants public participation in the maintenance of open spaces. This ‘policy’ of depriving citizens of their rights on open spaces and creating private rights on them is again being revived with some cosmetic changes. Senior BMC officials admit that the corporation has adequate funds to maintain the open spaces, but it was mooting the ‘adoption policy’ to get citizen’s participation. I would like to recall one earlier experience of this nature:
Papers obtained my me under RTI (in 2005) showed that the first agreement with Matoshri Club in March 1996 was given for 5 years for the 5 acre plot at CTS 190B. The agreement to take care of the open space allowed nothing except two boards no more than 2.5 ft. by 10 inches to be put up on the Ground. It stated that no structure of permanent nature will be put up. Subsequently on 13 December, 1996 an agreement was signed permitting a construction of 50% of the plot for Gymkhana and Swimming pool! Now it is a full scale private club. Numerous clubs have come up like this on public land which has been given away to some private interests.
There are a few cases of really well-meaning citizens having taken charge of open spaces and with their own funds managing them for public good. But even in these cases institutionally a major flaw is that open spaces are effectively being put in charge of private bodies, which may not have the same altruistic organisers for all time to come. Estimates show that the BMC would need less than 200 crores annually to meet the expenses of sprucing up and maintaining these open spaces. BMC with an annual budget of Rs32,000 crore has a provision of Rs200 crore for maintaining various grounds and gardens, which it is not utilising. If BMC is really keen on getting public participation it could encourage citizen’s groups to do social audit and monitoring of these grounds and also take their help in designing the facilities. The BMC’s intentions are clear when one looks at the evaluation criterion for selecting those who wish to adopt the open spaces. One of them gives preference to organisations which have turnover of Rs5 crore! The intentions are obvious. This is one more attempt to alienate citizens from their open spaces. The opposition in the Corporation has strongly opposed this new policy. Citizens must protest if they wish to retain control of these open spaces. It is obvious that there is a corrupt motive motivating this ‘policy’. Citizens should take a strong position by organising meetings and interacting with the elected representatives. We should ask them to explain their actions which are not in the interest of public. If they do not listen to our voice and continue on this nefarious path, we should vow to teach them an appropriate lesson in the next BMC election.
(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