In the new Development Plan (DP) for Mumbai, the Maharashtra government has allegedly compromised on public open spaces, modifying regulations to benefit BJP state headquarters in south Mumbai. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, however, has denied this.
In March, Fadnavis had announced that his government would not compromise on public open spaces in Mumbai while sanctioning the financial capital’s new DP. But just six months later, the government has made exceptions to this rule. On September 22, while sanctioning major modifications to the DP, the Fadnavis-led urban development (UD) department approved a proposal, stating: “Structures constructed in designated public open spaces, with the due sanction of the competent authority, before the coming into force of Mumbai’s new development control regulations, stand protected.”
Incidentally, the BJP headquarters exists on a portion of a 72,000 square feet public recreation ground, known as the Jawaharlal Nehru Garden, which is situated near Mantralaya, the state secretariat. It has been in the line of fire since 2013 when local residents’ body, Nariman Point-Churchgate Citizens’ Association (NPCCA), started a campaign to free up this famous public open space. They had even filed a public interest litigation in this regard in the Bombay High Court.
In March, 2017, the NPCCA’s campaign had an impact, when following a court order, the Mumbai municipality demolished large parts of other government offices and encroachment existing on the land. But while the ruling BJP at that time reduced the size of its office, it continues to function from the open space, with the party’s top state brass claiming that it had the “requisite permissions” from relevant authorities.
The area was marked as recreation ground (RG) in the 1961 DP and the 1991 DP. However, on May 8, 2018, the government first proposed a change in the reservation status of the open space. In modifications proposed to public reservations in the new DP, it was marked as RG+, recognising other uses on the portions of the ground. But this is yet to be cleared, and the NPCCA has formally raised a strong objection to it. Then, on September 22, the government approved another modification – this time in the development control regulations, recognising structures already existing with due permissions on a designated public open space as “tolerated”.
When contacted, CM Fadnavis denied the claim that the “tolerated structure” clause had been incorporated in the new regulations to “protect” the BJP office. “As far as the BJP office is concerned, we have already demolished two-third portion and only the part that was allowed as per the court order is in existence. The BJP’s office is already protected by the order, so it doesn’t need any such provision.”
State BJP president Raosaheb Danve said: “We (BJP) won’t do anything that is beyond the purview of the law. The chief minister has studied the law before incorporating the change… Based on the court’s order, we have already razed portions of the party office that the court had objected to.”
In March, while addressing the state Assembly, Fadnavis had said, “We will not touch a single open space in the city. There will be no compromise related to the open spaces, except those governed by court rulings and the development plan released in 1991.”