Citizens must protest if they wish to retain control of open spaces in Mumbai
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.)
Silloo Marker
9 years ago
Completely agree with Shailesh Gandhi. As citizens, we have a stake in our city. Bombay (or Mumbai, if you will) is already so deprived of open spaces, we need to react strongly to any move to give any of the scarce open spaces under any policy. The caretaker policy actually made it officially possible to construct on 20% of the open space by the caretaker. This was strongly opposed (by the NGO, NAGAR, for example, very involved in the protection of open spaces) and has been thankfully suspended. For a municipal corporation as wealthy as the Bombay Municipal Corporation, there is absolutely no need to give any open space to anyone, even under the scheme of adoption. The price of keeping your open spaces open and free for all citizens is eternal vigilance. There are citizens who have managed to save whatever open space they have in their area by using the Right to Information Act to find out their current status and react fast when required. There are even some alert citizens (like the Mahiti Adhikar Manch) who are now doing social audits of the public money spent by the BMC on maintenance of open spaces given to contractors who generally pocket huge amounts and do almost nothing more about maintenance once they have the contract. Like Shailesh Gandhi, they use the RTI very effectively and help others to do the same in their own areas.
9 years ago
Citizens must protest if they wish to retain control of open spaces in Mumbai./ who has time to do such social things? and suppose do ing some one get support at large like JAN LOKPAL what has been achieved? worthless thought.
Jyoti Dua
9 years ago
All ready very limited open spaces available in Mumbai are very critical for the environment, and public health. These should not be handed over to private sector. However, an area co-operative society supported by a corporate ( with advertising rights only) can be considered for up keep of various open spaces.
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