Concerned citizens and activists from Mumbai have written to chief minister (CM) Eknath Shinde, opposing a proposed draft of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) new policy on open spaces; they have urged the CM not to hand over civic plots to private parties.
Recently, CM Eknath Shinde had mentioned that a meeting was held to discuss the policy on open spaces in Mumbai and that the Municipal Commissioner has committed to submitting a final draft by the end of the month. The new policy is likely to do away with the controversial ‘caretaker’ term that allowed private individuals to maintain public spaces over a period of 30 years. Over half a dozen public places in the city had been taken under the caretaker policy earlier, that the BMC has not been able to get back to date.
Earlier in January 2016, BMC had cleared a proposal to allow private parties to maintain a public park or ground for a maximum period of 30 years. However, later that year, this proposal was stayed by former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, because social activists criticised the move alleging that it would provide added advantage to political bigwigs. An initiative to formulate a new policy was brought up in 2016, when the proposal faced criticism from several sections of society. However, there has been no action on it thus far.
Civic officials have said that the upcoming policy has a clause that will allow parties to maintain a space only for a period of 11 months. A civic official was widely reported saying, “We may allow private parties to maintain a ground for 11 months and adopt a garden for five years. These timelines may be extended on certain conditions.”
The letter that has been sent to the CM has been signed by social activists, Nayana Kathpalia, Dolphy D’Souza, Ashank Desai, Bhagwanji Raiyani, Sharad Saraf, Shailesh Gandhi, DS Ranga Rao and Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu. The letter demands that maintenance and caretaking of public open spaces be made a mandatory duty of the municipal corporation instead of an optional duty.
“It is very necessary to do this, so that a kidnapping policy is not brought back anytime in the future. Please close the doors for such sly gifting of our open spaces - these belong to the rulers of government, the Citizens,” reads the letter.
Freelance journalist and social activist, Anil Galgali fears that the new policy will be a reiteration of the same one that was opposed by concerned citizens eight years ago. “Mumbaikars are not aware of any public consultation on this important open spaces issues, because there hasn’t been one. About eight years ago a policy was passed to give away our parks, playground and recreation grounds to private parties, which was called the ‘adoption’ and ‘caretaker’ policy. Citizens of Mumbai launched a campaign in which called on our elected representatives to oppose this ‘kidnapping’ policy. Today, we are looking at a similar situation with the new open spaces policy. But hopefully sense will prevail,” he says.
Activists also allege that the reasons given for handing over maintenance of public spaces to private entities are deeply flawed. “The reason that MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) does not have the funds, is categorically false, as MCGM budget is over Rs50,000 crore and maintaining our open spaces will not cost more than about Rs400 crores,” reads the letter addressed to the CM.
The other reasoning that MCGM cannot maintain and supervise them well, while true in some aspects, has a simple solution that the activists have recommended in their letter. “Maintenance can be given to contractors and the audit of these could be entrusted to the same institutions who would be interested to ‘adopt’ to these spaces. In this case, no legal rights are created, nor is it put in the possession of the private party. If an institution wants to really do service and maintain these grounds it would happily do this if its intentions were not malafide. This could also be done by many NGOs,” the letter reads.