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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Out of sight,out of mind

Neglect underlies civic issues in R North ward,where poor state of open spaces,footpaths and roads,and encroachment on green patches are chronic problems,finds Alison Saldanha

Written by Alison Saldanha | Mumbai | June 25, 2013 2:39:09 am

R North ward,the nothernmost tip of Mumbai,is over 35 km away from BMC headquarters and suffers from a languid response to civic issues here. This is reflected in the civic officials’ poor attendance to Local Area Citizens Committee (LACC) meetings. Activists attribute this apathy to lack of public participation.

“We hold meetings every 15 days to discuss civic issues but the officers who can actually address these issues are almost never present. We have one of the best LACCs in the western suburbs,but the response is demotivating,” said Willie Sirsat,co-ordinator of citizen’s group AGNI for R-North ward and president of the local Jagruth Nagrik Manch.

The ward,famous for its greenscapes,is flanked by mangroves on the west and Sanjay Gandhi National Park on the east. The ward also has 24 marked open spaces and gardens for public use. However,residents complain that politicians such as MLAs Gopal Shetty and Vinod Ghosalkar,who have adopted some of these spaces under the Recreational Ground/Play Ground (RGPG) caretaker scheme,have neglected them. “Children cannot play in these gardens and recreational grounds as the swings,slides and other apparatus are out of order. The seats are often broken. The condition of these spaces worsens with each passing year,” said Sirsat.

Shiv Sena corporator Sheetal Mukesh Mhatre said,“Garden maintenance is not coverd under corporators’ fund but we take up the issue in our general body meetings with the civic body. It is up to them to take care of it.”

Corporators of all seven constituencies in the ward claim to have spent around 80 per cent their Rs 60-lakh municipal councillor’s fund on repair and maintenance of minor roads and footpaths for the 2012-2013 fiscal.

Residents,however,say they are yet to see the results. “In many areas,there are no foothpaths and the roads are ridden with potholes. Even the roads constructed this year do not have proper footpaths. On many minor roads,paverblocks have sunk,leading to several pedestrians being injured,” said Sirsat.

Sena corporator Shubha Raul of Mandapeshwar,Borivali,has spent most of the councillor’s fund allotted to her. However,she has yet to spend around 70 per cent of the ward committee fund (Rs 40 lakh allotted to each political constituency). She claimed the new e-tendering process had delayed road improvement work. “The online system was not working. There were no bidders. Finally,I managed to get a few,but there was a delay in carrying out the work order. I have managed to construct footpaths with railings,” said Raul.

Congress corporator Sheetal Mhatre of Ketakipada,Shailendra Nagar,and Sena coporator Hansaben Desai of Ambawadi,Borivali,claimed that most of their funds were spent in improving narrow pathways in slums.

Open drains have also reduced footpath space. “We have been asking the civic body and corporator Abhishek Ghosalkar to close the drains since October last year. Now,monsoon is here and these have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Passersby also use them as a mini-garbage dumps,” said Jude Gonsalves,a resident of I C Colony. Only Desai and Abhishek Ghosalkar claim to have directed funds toward this issue.

Another sore point is the mushrooming encroachments on Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) land. About 50 acres of mangrove land has been encroached upon by roughly 50,000 settlements in the area now recognised as Ganpat Patil Nagar. This has led to tension with adjoining legal residential colonies. Owing to their proxmity to the sea,the settlements are vulnerable to monsoon-related disasters. “The residents of these tenements don’t know they are encroaching on CRZ land but the politicians encouraging them are aware of the fact. In 1995,the number of tenements here was less than 200. These slum dwellers have pilfered water and electricity connections here and we have had to pay for this,too. If there is a destructive high-tide,who will take responsibility for these people?” said Harish Pandey,core committee member,New Link Road Residents’ Forum.

In January,BMC took up the task of demolishing around 1,000 hutments in the area. R-North ward activists,however,claim the hutments came up again soon after. “They use public funds to demolish these huts,and the next day,the slums are back with political support. The corporators supporting them also represent us. They are forcing us to pay from our pockets for the problems they cause,” said Sirsat.

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