Public land may not be available any longer to private players with plans to develop clubs and gymkhanas, membership to which does not come cheap, and hence restricted to a small percentage of residents.
After seven years of a policy paralysis, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) now plans to completely do away with the controversial “caretaker” clause in its Recreation Grounds and Playgrounds (RG/PG) policy. Instead, the administration is drawing up a new policy that focuses entirely on the “adoption” clause for RG/PGs. The proposed policy will apply to all public parks, grounds, gymkhanas, swimming pools, sports clubs and gardens in Mumbai.
“We had earlier come out with an RG/PG policy which corporators recorded (sent back for modificiations), so we are now in the process of drafting a new one. The basic underlying principle for our new RG/PG policy is free access for people to all public open spaces,” said a source in the civic body.
In the controversial caretaker policy, land was to be given to a caretaker on a minimum of 33-year lease. The caretaker was allowed to construct on 25 per cent of the total area if the plot size ranged between 5,000 sq ft and 15,000 sq ft. For larger grounds, 33 per cent of the land could be used for construction. In return, the caretaker was expected to maintain the remaining portion of the ground for public use and charge Rs 2-5 for use.
Under the adoption policy, an open space could be handed over to a local citizens group or NGo for five years on a deposit of Rs 25,000. Only a 10×10 feet security enclosure can be constructed on the plot under this scheme.
As per the open spaces reservations in the Mumbai development plan, with 2,968 hectares of open space, Mumbai has per capita open space of 2.48 square metres. However, in reality, this figure dwindles to 0.88 square metres as many of these spaces are built upon, not in use, or allow only restricted entry.
Since 2010, the BMC has attempted for a revised open spaces policy that lays more emphasis on “adoption” rather than “caretaker”, but has faced tremendous pressure from the political class. Initially, the civic body had designed two policies for the city’s open spaces – the adoption policy and the caretaker policy. In December 2007, a stay was levied on the policy by the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh after private parties managing open spaces under the “caretaker” policy were exposed for misusing and usurping the public plots solely for private use.
A PIL was also filed in the Bombay High Court by citizen groups, which named 10 clubs built under the caretaker policy. These were Vihar Sports Complex Borivali, MIG Club Bandra, Matoshree Club Jogeshwari, Mandapeshwar Club Borivali, Wellington Club Santacruz, Ronson Foundation Juhu, Prabodhankar Thackeray Complex. Most of these are run by trusts backed by senior politicians belonging to the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, like Shiv Sena MLAs Ravindra Waikar and Vinod Ghosalkar, and MLA Gopal Shetty. Entry to these is restricted to club members only, while public are only allowed access to a small portion of the open space in restricted timings.1
Civic officials have yet to decide on the 10 large public RG/PG plots allotted to private bodies and charitable trusts. “We have yet to take a call on the 10 clubs that have appropriated public land for private use. In the future, it should definitely change to adoption because these are large tracts of land which have been taken over and it is a tremendous loss of open space for citizens,” BMC sources said.
However, advocates for the caretaker policy say limitations on construction in the “adoption” scheme restrict citizens’ aspirations for access to clubs, gymkhanas and swimming pools.