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‘Against public interest’: Activists write to Lodha against BMC’s open spaces policy

Days after Guardian Minister Mangal Prabhat Lodha and senior civic officials convened a meeting with citizens opposing the implementation of the contentious policy for open spaces, a draft of which was floated by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) recently, former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi and activists, including Anil Galgali, wrote to the Guardian minister on Wednesday, demanding that the open spaces must not be handed over to private parties.

BMC’s proposal aims to transfer the ownership of the civic body’s open spaces to private caretakers under a caretaker policy. The policy has drawn flak from citizens as well as activists with many writing to the administration opposing the same.

In their letter addressed to Lodha, the activists reiterated that giving public lands on “caretaker” or “adoption” basis was against public interest and must not be done. The letter read, “Citizens felt that MCGM had the capability of maintaining all open spaces. It was suggested that some of the maintenance could be undertaken through contractors. Audit and monitoring responsibilities could be given to private parties like NGOs and corporates.”

At the meeting on September 15, Deputy Municipal Commissioner (DMC) (Gardens) Kishore Gandhi maintained that the gardens will remain unaffected by the policy. “At present, the policy is proposed only for playgrounds and recreational grounds. Even in cases of recreational grounds which have garden plots, the garden spaces will remain untouched by the policy,” said Gandhi during the meeting, adding that to ensure development of sports facilities such as football turfs, basketball courts, etc., which people do not have access to.

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Responding to Gandhi’s statements, activists wrote, “If the requirement was only for training facilities for sports, consultants could be invited and still no need could be seen to handover open spaces to private parties.”

The written appeal comes on the heels of a letter written by MLA Ameet Satam to the BMC officials in support of the citizens’ views. “All gardens should be maintained by the BMC only and local ALMs can be appointed as the watchdogs. All plots currently in possession of individuals and institutions given on adoption or caretaker basis should be taken back,” read a portion of Satam’s letter.

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In another meeting with citizens opposing the BMC’s bid to carry out the reconstruction of the century old Malabar Hill Reservoir, located underneath the surface of Kamla Nehru Park, saying 389 trees will be affected, Lodha on Monday asked citizens to propose an alternative plan. Concerned netizens have said that they will consult with multiple hydraulic engineers and present an alternative model to the minister in the next meeting.

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