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HAVING undertaken a two-year legal battle to ensure that the Jawaharlal Nehru Garden at Nariman Point is free of encroachments, residents of the area are preparing to continue their battle after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) approached the Public Works Department (PWD) for permission to construct a 5-foot high boundary wall around a 1,482-square feet portion of the plot.
Days after demolishing illegal extensions of its office that were encroaching upon the plot that is marked as a recreation ground, the BJP approached the PWD for approval to construct the wall and enclose a lawn. The demolition of the illegal portions of the party office was conducted as per a Bombay High Court order.
Objecting to the BJP’s application to build this boundary wall, residents of Nariman Point claimed such a move would be against the spirit of the court’s orders. “We will pursue all available options, including legal recourse, as this is directly in contradiction to the High Court’s orders to remove all encroachments. Whatever goodwill the BJP had generated by demolishing their office, they have lost it all by asking to cordon off a portion with a wall,” said Atul Kumar, trustee of the Nariman Point Churchgate Citizens Welfare Trust (NPCCWT).
The residents added that the High Court order had suggested to the PWD that the Nehru Garden be converted into a children’s park.
The BJP currently occupies two plots of land in the area, measuring 1,200 square feet and 1,482 square feet. The plots are leased to them by the PWD. According to a letter sent to the party by the PWD on November 18 last year, while the original lease issued on May 31, 1989 expired on October 31 1995, the PWD had renewed the lease on November 11, 2016, for a period of two years.
In March, following the orders issued by the Bombay High Court while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) on illegal encroachments in Nehru Park, the BJP was forced to demolish a portion of its office. By the end of the month, however, the BJP’s office secretary Mukund Kulkarni wrote to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), asking for the permission to develop the lawn and construct a 5-foot high wall surrounding an area of 2,682 square feet, which also includes the BJP office.
In response to the letter sent on March 27, the BMC wrote to the party on May 3, stating that the Nehru Garden is under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Garden department of the PWD. The BMC also said that until any approval is granted, the BJP would have to maintain the reservation of the plot as directed by the High Court.
The BJP on its part now says that the residents have been misled about its intentions to enclose the space with a wall. BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said no norms are being flouted. “The High Court had asked us to demolish a portion of our office since the garden is reserved as a recreation ground. We have, thus, simply asked to develop and maintain the garden which will be open to the general public. We have proposed the wall to keep homeless people out and prevent them from illegally living in the garden,” he said.
PWD’s executive engineer, Pradnya Walke, said that no approval has been granted to the BJP yet.