Government destroying public spaces rather than protecting them

Sadhu Vaswani garden

Stop the kidnap policy of public space by the Mumbai municipal corporation and the government. That was the theme of a public meeting held at St Michael’s church auditorium in Mahim last evening. Kidnap is perhaps too mild a word for the most condemnable attitude of the authorities who may be said to be vandalising our public life in the name of development.

There is no shortage such cases. They are spread all over. A citizens’ meeting is scheduled to be held in the Sadhu Vaswani garden of the BMC on 27 May evening, this is yet another open space the city will be losing because of utter lack of planning by the government. The garden is to razed by the Metro railway for building a station here right on the road. It is a few inches from the Tata Parsi housing colony at the HP or Bandra talkies junction. Apart from losing the public, green space, one can imagine the assault of construction noise and dust and pollution that will emanate from this site that the residents will face.

All because people with hubris want to foist a hugely expensive project on the city while contemptuously ignoring the simple solution of adding more buses to the BEST undertaking.

The city would have lost the Patwardhan park garden on Linking Road in Bandra had it not been for the vigilance of citizens, most of them upper class. Now the authorities want to construct a car park below the children’s ground next to the park. Politicians and the government seem to live in extreme ignorance or pretend they are unaware. So many car parks of malls and other places in the vicinity are either not being used or are being utterly misused in total violation of civic norms which the tainted elements are ignoring.

And then look at the irony and few notice these contradictions. Bang on the other side of yesterday’s meeting venue is the BEST bus station of Mahim. The government has robbed us of much land from this station and given it to a builder who has constructed a hideous luxury residential tower. So the bus station is now left with very little space for its operations. The BEST management seems to have no inclination to learn from its past mistake. The new bus stops here have very narrow sitting space extremely torturous to sit. The trouble is even architects trained in major institutes see nothing wrong with such bad design.

So the government is robbing a public transport body of its land and then robbing us of a garden for an ill conceived Metro project which has already robbed the city of several public spaces like the Sane Guruji garden near Siddhi Vinayak temple and the open space near Mantralaya. Ignorance and arrogance in planning and design seem to be the order of the day. A form of transport which depends on robbery of open spaces is chosen in place of bus transport which requires very little space comparatively.

Unfortunately even social activists are not noticing such preposterous acts because many of them have stopped using public transport.

Joining the protest meeting yesterday were Mahesh Zagade, former Pune municipal commissioner, who came specially from Pune, Shailesh Gandhi, former central principal information commissioner and RTI activist, Amit Satam, BJP MLA from Andheri, Anil Galgali, Bhaskar Prabhu, Zoru Bathena and Girish Raut. The meeting was organised under the auspices of the Bombay Catholic Sabha headed by Dolphy D’souza.

The meeting was held to oppose a proposed policy which seeks to hand over civic public spaces to private clubs and other organisations.

Mr Zagade said the 74th amendment gave enormous protection to citizens and provided for consultations with them. Citizens should disregard any policy that contravenes democratic norms. He said bureaucrats should stand up and give the correct advice to politicians who do listen to suggestions.

Amit Satam surprisingly opposed the policy though his party the BJP is thought to be at the root of such anti people projects. He claimed that he had consulted the chief minister and deputy c.m. before coming for the meeting.

It was pointed out that municipal commissioner Chahal is willing to listen to suggestions and citizens should meet him. A section of the bureaucracy is said to have come with some proposals solely because some 41 organisations still control some municipal public spaces and want to continue their hold.

Unfortunately, many activists seem to be unaware that the municipal administration can also mess up public grounds and gardens, it is not just politicians and their NGOs. Some public gardens managed by the BMC are a hotbed of corruption and are being vandalised, robbed of greenery, foisting of cement and concrete, blinding lights and artificial turf. There is not the slightest understanding among some elements about the need of biodiversity, basic need for shade and sitting arrangements. In one park redeveloped at great cost without any justification whatsoever has destroyed greenery and brought in soil full of stones, totally unfit for a garden. Some of these works seem to be undertaken solely for the benefit of politicians and contractors depriving citizens of basic amenities.
Vote for us and then get lost, seems to be motto of some politicians, as one speaker pointed out.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport


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