MUMBAI: City activists are fuming at the BMC decision to not take back 91 public open spaces from private entities and politicians—despite allegations of misuse—following chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ announcement on Tuesday that these gardens and recreational grounds can be retained for maintenance, provided the public is not charged an entry fee. Slamming the move, activists said these public open spaces are being misused for commercial activities and personal purposes.
Two such gardens in Kandivli (West), which are in the custody of trusts supported by BJP MP Gopal Shetty, for instance, have been converted into clubs.
Activists said the BMC decision will set a bad precedent as several organizations bar citizens entry into public spaces. They were also shocked at the government’s “sudden U-turn” on the issue. In January, the BMC decided to take back 216 open spaces from private trusts. They took back 125 but did not act against the rest “under pressure”.
A BMC official said, “This amounts to double standards. Genuine entities had returned plots under their custody to the BMC without delay. But influential ones avoided doing so under some pretext or the other. Now the government is allowing them to keep these.”
Another BMC official added that when they tried to take back a public garden from a famous south Mumbai school, used exclusively for students, senior officials asked them to stop the process. Similarly, in Kandivli East, a builder who runs several educational institutions had grabbed a garden with the help of his family members who are into active politics, and converted it into a parking space for school buses and also used it for commercial sports activities.
“There should be no compromise. The BMC should take back all public gardens. Most are being misused for commercial gain. The BMC has enough budget to maintain these garden with public participation,” said filmmaker and activist Ashoke Pandit.
“We will oppose the move. There is a track record of entities misusing open spaces and there is a strong public opinion against it. The government’s decision has shocked us. What happened to the BJP city president’s private member bill making maintenance of open spaces obligatory on the BMC? First you take credit for protecting open spaces and now you compromise the city’s interest,” said Samajwadi Party corporator Rais Shaikh.
Earlier, the BMC had a caretaker policy under which some organizations had taken public open spaces for maintenance and constructed club houses. The BMC came out with an adoption policy to stop the misuse. Activists protested, saying loopholes in the policy would allow private entities to grab the plots. The government then asked the BMC to take back all allotted spaces. Therefore, the current government decision to allow private entities to keep these open spaces with them for maintenance has surprised many.
Credits ET Realty