Mumbai Local

An SOS for the city’s open spaces

RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi—Photo: Special arrangement  

Right to Information activist and former Chief Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi tells Satish Nandgaonkar what is wrong with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s open spaces policy, and why citizens should support the Save Our Spaces (SOS) campaign in their neighbourhood.

What are your concerns about the recreation/playground policy?

The policy talks about adoption of open spaces and creating third party rights. Adoption is for orphans; so, I wonder who is orphaned here.

By creating a third party right, the BMC is effectively creating a third party interest in a property, and to give a legal right to a third party translates into defacto ownership.

Given our judicial system, it could mean a lifetime ownership.

Do you feel corporates will misuse the policy under corporate social responsibility?

They have specified that associations and business houses adopting open spaces should have a turnover of over Rs 5 crore. They said corporates should be given preference. The idea of possession of a third party right is wrong. If you have a property, would you give it to someone else with a legal right? I don’t think money is an issue here. They have a budget of over Rs 400 crore for gardens and playgrounds, and they don’t even spend Rs 200 crore of it.

But, open spaces have been adopted by associations earlier and they have worked well

There are some places like the Bandra promenade where social organisations are doing sterling work. But, you cannot guarantee against vested interests getting into such associations, and misusing the policy. So, why do you create a third party right? If BMC is keen on getting public participation, it could encourage citizen’s groups to do ‘social audit’ and take their help in designing the facilities. Activists like Bhaskar Prabhu have been doing social audits in Dadar.

Can you cite an example of open spaces misused in the caretaker policy in the past?

The papers I obtained under the RTI in 2005 showed that the first agreement with Matoshri Club in March 1996 was given for five years for a five-acre plot at CTS 190B. The agreement allowed nothing, except two boards no more than 2.5 feet by 10 inches to be put up on the ground. It stated no structure of permanent nature will be put up. On December 13, 1996, an agreement was signed permitting construction of a gymkhana and a swimming pool on 50 per cent of the plot. Now it is a full-scale private club.

How do you plan to oppose the policy?

I had called a meeting of citizens who would like to participate in a campaign. Nearly 50 people, including Gerson Da Cunha, Anandini Thakur and Bhaskar Prabhu, attended the meeting. We decided to call the campaign, Save Our Spaces. Each of us has decided to contact at least three corporators and question them why they support a policy to alienate our open spaces and creating private party rights on those. We decided that each of us would contact at least 30 citizens to explain them the issue, and persuade them to join the campaign. If they still pass the policy and start implementing it, citizens should warn their elected representatives that they would not vote for them in the 2017 BMC elections if they supported giving away public spaces.



They don’t even spend Rs 200 crore for gardens out of the Rs 400 crore budgetShailesh Gandhi,RTI activist



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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 3:03:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/an-sos-for-the-citys-open-spaces/article7957090.ece

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