When Mr Bal Thackeray passed away on November 17, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut and the mayor Sunil Prabhu demanded a funeral with state honours for their leader. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and three cabinet ministers conferred to agree to their demand, keeping in mind the stature of the Sena leader and public sentiment.
For the funeral, the state government had given due direction to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation(BMC) to permit the cremation of the late Sena leader at Shivaji Park on Sunday, in view of the massive crowd and threat of law and order problems. Accordingly the municipal commissioner exercised powers under section 440 (2) of the BMC act to permit cremation at a place which is not designated under law for that purpose.
Top government sources said such an exception was made in the case of Shiv Sena leader Anand Dighe in Thane in August 2001. After Dighe died in a hospital run by the Singhanias, the Sainiks torched it down. The Thane municipal corporation had to open up a large public ground for the cremation.
There was a suggestion from a political leader that a suitable Thackeray memorial could be built at the Mayor’s bungalow, which is near Shivaji Park. Mr Ashok Rawat of WECOM said a memorial should be at a proper place and of proper scale. It can’t be at Shivaji Park for sentimental reasons alone.
After the public interest litigation filed by WECOM in 2009 in the Bombay high court, the court declared it a silence zone. That order has ensured that every political party has to approach it for permission for public meetings. The Shiv Sena has gone every year to the court and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena(MNS) was rebuffed earlier this year when it wanted to hold a pre- civic election rally.
This year before the annual Dussehra rally on October 24, the court observed that next year on the venue could be shifted to a suitable place like the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) grounds in Bandra.
The PIL had asked the court to settle the issue of whether Shivaji Park was a recreation or a play ground and if non-sporting activities could be held there. In August 2010 the court prohibited vehicles from entering the 28 acre park in the heart of the city. The government is maintaining that it is yet to receive a proposal for a memorial to Mr Thackeray, and Mr Rawat and others say they have to wait till then. “We can’t do anything premature and have to wait till the government takes a decision on building a memorial.”
Mr Rawat said people seem to have forgotten that Shivaji Park is already a memorial to Shivaji Maharaj and you cannot have a second memorial within a memorial. In 1927 the then civic corporation accorded memorial status to the playground, naming it after Shivaji Maharaj, keeping in mind the public sentiment on the occasion of the king’s 300 birth anniversary. Shivaji’s equestrian state at the entrance of the park was built 40 years after that decision.
This history has to be respected, say Shivaji Park residents. Why have another memorial at the same place, however great that person may be, residents add.
The WECOM Trust mainly fights for environmental issues and started in the 1970s as a movement of morning walkers. Later in 1992 it was registered as a trust. The Park is a favoured sporting ground with many clubs on the periphery, a temple , a gymkhana, and after Mr Bal Thackeray’s wife died, a statue to Meenatai Thackeray was built at one of the entrances.
The PIL demanded that Shivaji Park be declared a silent zone since the BMC was not notifying the park as such. Secondly it demanded to know if the park was a recreation ground or a playground. That matter is still pending before the court. As a playground there are restrictions on the number of days, 15, in this case which are allowed for non sport activities, Mr Rawat pointed out. In the case of recreation grounds, there is no limit, making a distinction very important.