More than 1,500 people, including residents of Colaba, students, parents and representatives of eight schools took to streets Thursday to protest the civic body’s plan to construct a swimming pool and a parking lot on a playground in the area.
According to residents, close to 10,000 students and hundreds of locals use the Sabina Chandrashekhar Memorial Municipal ground, formerly called Wellington Garden, which has a football field, two basketball courts, a walking track, and a children’s playing area. Campion, St Anne’s, St Joseph’s, Fort Convent, Holy Name and a few other schools use the playground regularly for sports and athletics.
On Thursday, Colaba residents and principals of the schools alleged the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), under pressure from politicians, is rushing to clear the proposed plan.
The proposal was first mooted by former corporator Vinod Shekhar in 2011 with a view that the area does not have a single swimming pool. However, it was opposed by residents and school managements.
Colaba residents, along with NGOs My Dream Colaba and Aadhar, had also organised a signature campaign.
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“Wellington Garden, or back garden as it is popularly known, has been the most loved green patch in the neighbourhood. For the schoolchildren, it is a boon. In a few days, construction of a municipal swimming pool will begin here. The garden must remain as it is, as it benefits more people than a swimming pool and car park will,” said Harshvardhan Roongta, a resident, whose child studies at Campion school.
Paul Machado, principal of Campion, said, “We want our open space. There is no need for a swimming pool here. This is one of the few remaining open spaces in this area. Even if a portion of the ground is used up for the pool, it will be a massive loss for residents and students.”
Municipal architect Nutan Ghogate and assistant commissioner of ‘A’ ward Devidas Kshirsagar were not available for comment.
A ward official said, “As per the Development Control regulations, up to 15 per cent of a recreational ground can be constructed upon. There is nothing illegal if we build a swimming pool here. The pool is for the residents.”
“As per the plan, the pool will hardly occupy 15 per cent of the ground. It will be constructed in a corner of the garden and will not prevent children from playing or residents from taking a walk. There are residents who have been demanding a swimming pool for years now. Apart from five-star hotels and clubs in the area, which are unaffordable for a majority of residents, the nearest swimming pool is in Dadar. A pool in this area is needed,” said Shekhar.
Residents, however, alleged that the proposal has been pushed through without the mandatory public hearing. “It is unfair to us. Nobody knows what the pool is going to cost. The BMC must give priority to what we want in this area — a swimming pool or a playground,” said a resident.
Roongta said, “If the pool comes up, there are higher chances of them lending it to a private entity for maintenance and then commercialisation of the place will start. Our children have no other playground in the vicinity.”