As many as 1,500 plots of land across Mumbai, reserved to be used as gardens, playgrounds and recreation grounds, are now up for adoption by corporates, individuals, non-government organisations and residents’ associations, with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation passing its contentious ‘open spaces policy’ Wednesday.
Under the policy, these plots may be adopted for a period of five years on payment of a deposit of Rs 25,000. Unlike previous norms, no construction will be allowed on these lands at all, though existing clubhouses on BMC land handed out under the previous ‘caretaker policy’ will not be affected. Officials clarified that the new policy would only apply to lands not already adopted or leased under the previous policies.
The previous caretaker policy for open spaces was stayed in 2007 by the state government, then under the Congress-NCP, after a furore over these lands being taken over by clubs run by politicians.
The new open spaces policy of the BMC has remained contentious for several reasons, chief among them being a condition that the BMC can select between prospective bidders for any plot based on their annual turnover and other financial factors, immediately leaving local residents’ associations at a disadvantage.
Under the new policy, however, no commercial activity will be allowed on these lands nor any construction, with the exception of toilets as permitted by the BMC.
Also, in a departure from the previous adoption policy, the grounds will now have to be kept open for access to people from 6 am to 9 pm, at a nominal entry fee of Rs 2 to Rs 5. Entry for children and senior citizens will be free. Under the previous adoption policy, the grounds, gardens and playgrounds could be kept closed through the afternoon, remaining open only for three hours in the mornings and evenings.
Additional Municipal Commissioner S V R Srinivas said the policy was needed to fill an existing vacuum on how to maintain these lands. Corporators across party lines, however, said the decision would affect common citizens’ access to open spaces. Samajwadi Party leader Rais Shaikh said, “This policy is flawed since it will encourage the wealthy corporates and discourage local communities from maintaining the gardens.”
Corporators said the plots would soon be rented out for events including weddings, limiting access to common residents. Samajwadi Party corporator Ashraf Azmi also cited a report saying 6 to 8 per cent of the city should comprise open spaces while only 0.8 per cent of Mumbai’s land remains open. “Once these are given out on adoption, the BMC won’t be able to get them back,” he said.
NCP corporator Dhananjay Pisal threatened to move court against the policy. Congress corporator Mohsin Haider also said the BMC should maintain open spaces on its own, through budgetary allocations.
With the general body of the BMC passing the proposal, officials said it would now be sent to the state government for a formal approval, after which implementation would start.