In what appears to be land grabbing by means of modifying and bypassing government rules to protect the city’s open spaces, the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) is giving finishing touches to its new luxurious club at Kandivli in suburban Mumbai, which in the development plan had been earmarked as a playground. Official papers related to the concerned land, approximately 42,000 sq. m. in size, revealed that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had taken the possession of said land in lieu of Transfer of Development Rights, which meant there could not be any construction on the land. According to sources, it was former MCA president and present Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar who initiated the process.

“It’s a clear nexus of politicians and bureaucrats which is hell-bent on depleting open spaces in the city. The entire plot was handed over to MCA within five days in extreme haste, without any involvement of other contenders or public notifications,” said Anjali Damania of Aam Adami Party (AAP) in a press conference held on Thursday.

As per the documents accessed through applications made under the Right To Information (RTI) act, Mr. Pawar wrote a letter to the then Additional Municipal Commissioner (Western suburbs) Sitaram Kunte on February 5, 2003. The letter stated that MCA was a “non-profitable trust mainly for the development of the game of cricket.”

“We would therefore request you to kindly allot the said ground to us for the training/coaching of the youngsters,” said Mr. Pawar’s letter. Ironically, the MCA has not built a single ‘cricket pitch’ on the said ground which was given to it for the “development of cricket”, till today.

The BMC, in real haste, conducted the inspection the very next day and it was sanctioned to the MCA on February 10, 2003. Subsequently, the MCA was granted said plot on March 3, 2003 for “adoption”. As per the “adoption policy”, the developer could not construct on the property. It was manipulated on March 9, 2004 by a note in the Improvement Committee of BMC. The note, to bypass the State government’s stay on the BMC’s guidelines on the development of public spaces, mentioned that the civic body had reconsidered the said resolution. The State government’s stay automatically lifted since the resolution was retracted. The note then said, “in view of removal of the stay, the Corporation is at liberty now to formulate fresh guidelines on development of reserved spaces.”

So they came up with the plan to give the said plot on “caretaker” basis wherein the developer would be allowed to construct in accordance with guidelines which were yet to be drafted.”

“The entire ground has been gifted to MCA for a pittance. The cost of club membership is Rs. 9 lakh per member. Citizens are denied entry and it will remain open for the rich and affluent of the society. Is this the cricket training Mr. Pawar was talking about?” asked Priti Sharma-Menon, spokesperson of the AAP, Maharashtra. The AAP has demanded that the opening of the club to be held in second week of July should be stopped. “We will be filing a Public Interest Litigation in the Bombay High Court against the club and its misuse of open space,” she said.

MCA president Ravi Sawant denied all the claims made by the AAP. “It’s not a small structure and was visible to everyone. We cannot help it if they are interpreting the papers they have in the wrong way. Let them say whatever they want,” he told The Hindu .