Our elected representatives in BMC have on 13 January passed what they call is an ‘adoption policy’ with respect to our Open Spaces. Many citizens heard about this proposal when the corporation’s committee had passed it. We realized that it would deplete our limited open spaces. We also realized that this was a way to gift away our property to private parties. Some citizens got together and called up many corporators to persuade them to drop this policy. We explained that there was just no logical reason for this. Many agreed that such a policy was not in the interests of citizens and assured us that they would oppose it. Not a single corporator could offer any logical reason for this policy, or explain the public interest in it. The key aspects of this ‘adoption policy’ are as follows:
- BMC will ask corporates, NGOs and other institutions to take up the open grounds,-our gardens, play grounds and recreation grounds,- and ‘adopt’ them. These offers would be evaluated and corporates would be given preference.
- The selected institution would then sign an agreement with BMC for five years.
- The corporate would maintain the ground and only be allowed to put a small board in the ground.
What is the problem with this? Every citizen is aware that possession of property is de facto ownership. Given our legal system it is nearly impossible to get anyone to vacate a property. In this case, private legal rights would be created. Earlier under such a professed policy where parties were asked to take ‘care’ of open spaces private clubs have been built. In certain cases they are inaccessible to citizens. There are many gardens and grounds which have been fenced off. Once a private party is given the responsibility of spending money on the maintenance and also given legal possession of the ground, no clauses in agreements are adequate to get the property back. Even after the period of agreement is over parties have continued to hold on to these grounds.
What are the reasons being offered for passing such a policy:
- BMC does not have the funds.
Citizens: This is false. The funds required to maintain the 1000 acres of open spaces will be around 200 crores and BMC has a budget larger than this which it is unable to spend. We are also aware that our BMC has a total budget of around 33000 crores.
- BMC cannot maintain and supervise them well.
Citizens: There is some truth in this. A very simple solution is to ask the same institutions to who would be interested to ‘adopt’ to audit and monitor these spaces. In that case no legal rights are created, nor is it put in the possession of the private party. If an institution wants to really do service and maintain these grounds it would happily do this if its intentions were not malafide.
When we explained this to many corporators many of them agreed with our contention. The parties in the opposition in BMC and some BJP and Shiv Sena members also agreed to safeguard our interests. In the house, they forgot our conversations and brazenly passed this policy. Citizens who had called the corporators have recorded the gist of their conversation with corporators at www.satyamevajayate.info . One conversation with a prominent BJP corporator has been reported thus: “First said that the policy is basically right and may need some tweaking. After i explained that a policy which created private rights and required private expenditure on open spaces would lead to free gifting away of open spaces, he asked for a solution. I suggested that BMC should retain all rights and maintain these through contracts and give the auditing, monitoring and supervisory authority to NGOs, corporate and other private bodies. He appreciated the suggestion and said he would represent this.”
The President of the same party had said that he would get the State assembly to pass a law which would make it impossible for BMC to give such lands away. Our elected representatives have let us down, and passed this policy to deprive us. Today many reporters have tried to get the elected leaders to explain the reasons but are not getting any answers.
If a poor man cannot pay for the upkeep of a single room which he owns, he will not give rights and possession to anyone else to maintain it. What is the reason for BMC to do what even a single poor man will not? The answer is evident. What remains with BMC remains with citizens.
Citizens must protest against this if they wish to defend their open spaces and lands. They can do the following:
- Call up corporators and tell them to recall the policy.
- Send letters to the BMC Commissioner and ask him to reject this policy. He has the right to do this.
- Send letters to the Chief Minister.
If we keep quiet and do nothing our future generation may not have open spaces and would have lost their property as well. We need to act to stop this ‘Kidnapping Policy’ masquerading as a ‘adoption policy’.
Mumbai needs open spaces for our children to play and spend some leisure time; for senior citizens to take their walks and meet other friends. A large number of Mumbaikars are staying in extremely small sized dwellings and need these open spaces.