The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation is set to roll out its open spaces’ policy which allows third-party caretakers to maintain open spaces under certain conditions. Senior civic officials said the proposal was ready and would be presented in the upcoming group leaders’ meeting.
The move will take place even as Mumbai’s BJP chief and legislator Ashish Shelar’s proposed Bill on making maintenance of open spaces an obligatory duty of the BMC comes up for discussion in the ongoing monsoon session of the Assembly.
As per the current set of norms, maintenance of the city’s open spaces is a wilful duty of the corporation and not an obligatory one.
Shelar, who has been the face behind the BJP’s attempts to wrest sole control of the BMC in the civic elections scheduled next year, in his Bill has proposed that protection, beautification and maintenance of recreation ground, playgrounds and gardens be included as part of the municipal commissioner’s obligatory duties. If passed, the BMC will be barred from allowing private bodies to adopt and maintain open spaces.
The BMC’s policy, on the other hand, refers to a new category which allows caretakers, including resident organisations and corporate organisations, to maintain the grounds as per the norms prescribed by the civic body. According to the policy, the caretaker has to allow non-discriminatory and free access to the public and as per the timings prescribed by the BMC. The organisation will be allowed to put up an advertising board at the entrance of the garden, which will also bear the MCGM logo and be of the dimensions of a foot by two feet.
Agreeing that the BMC’s policy of involving third-party caretakers in the maintenance of open spaces would contradict the points made in his Bill, Shelar said, “Making it an obligatory duty of the corporation will put an end to commercialisation and privatisation of playgrounds and recreation grounds. It would thus, be better if the BMC maintains the open spaces. However, discussion on the bill is yet to happen.”
The civic officials, however, do not feel that the policy will be inconsistent with the Bill. “The BMC will execute its duties of ensuring that the public gets indiscriminate and free access to the open spaces. We will also ensure that the open spaces are not misused in any manner whatsoever,” said a senior official.
The official added that the policy would be open to any kind of organisation willing to maintain the open spaces as per the norms laid out in a binding agreement between the caretaker and the BMC.
Supporting the civic administration’s stand, senior Shiv Sena corporator Trushna Vishwasrao said the BMC would be unable to maintain and monitor such a large number of open spaces in the city.
“The BMC will not be able to maintain the open spaces as well as the resident organisations or other groups which would understand the local needs and keep a check on illegal constructions,” she said. She added that Shelar’s Bill was yet to be passed and turned into an Act.
Vishwasrao argued that it was not possible for a civic body to monitor 216 plots at the same time. “The BMC is paying agencies to supply staff for the maintenance of the plots and in case of encroachments, additional funds will be spent on removing them. Instead of wasting money on external agencies which are recruiting old people as security guards who are unable to do their job well, it is better to give it to third-party organisation which will do it free of cost and the public will benefit from it as well,” she said.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had put a stay on the open spaces’ policy passed by the BMC in January and had issued orders to take back all the BMC-owned open spaces. However, after taking back some of the plots, the BMC was short of staff members required to maintain all the 216 plots it had set out to take back. In April, the standing committee had passed a proposal of spending Rs 133 crore on hiring staff and maintenance of the plots.