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Politics in ‘Open Space’

Monday, January 25, 2016
By Prashant Hamine

The war of words between the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the adoption policy of Recreational Ground/ Playground (RG/PG) policy or better still now known as 'Open Space' policy only underscores that it is all got to do with the early 2017 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The BJP government's belated move to impose a “stay” on the policy comes after a majority of the Sena-BJP leaders have occupied prime location plots reserved for playgrounds. But so far none of those involved have talked about returning those plots back, though the BMC is now asking them to be returned back.

We are not speaking here about the politics of it, but about the faulty Development Planning of any major city. Already the Development Plan (DP) of Mumbai for 2034 has come under scanner for its sloppy, faulty earmarking or placing “reservations” on spaces and plots. The report is being redrawn after hue and cry was raised over it. Open Spaces especially the Green Spaces are essential components of any Development Plan. They are essential to prevent “Urban Decay” setting in any metropolis. But unfortunately in the process of rapid urbanisation and exploitation of every square inch of open space available is only hastening that Urban Decay as we know it.

Open and Green Spaces have been described as the heart and lungs of the city. The steady vanishing of these areas from the city DP is indicative of the rapid rise in environmental pollution. The advent of the Odd-Even formula is a fall out of our failure to modernise our public transport infrastructure. It is also indicative of the deteriorating health of the people at large. These days most of the schools and colleges in Mumbai do not have a playground of their own, so vital to develop sporting talent in children and youth. No wonder that we lag behind in performance in sporting disciplines at all levels.

In another major development the Centre has notified the area around Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), Borivali as Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ), that includes nearby Aarey Milk Colony. Thirty-five years ago any attempt to construct even a small hut inside Aarey Milk Colony used to be met with swift demolition by the authorities. Today the area boasts of sprawling urban slums like Adarsh and Mayur Nagar. The main arterial road is dotted with tea stalls and cafeterias where none existed. The roads in the area have become infamous for their long hours of traffic jams. All this could not have happened without political patronage.

It is close to 20 years now that the Sena in alliance with the BJP which has been in power in the BMC. As the metropolis yearns to become truly international city and a Smart City also with a creaking civic infrastructure both the alliance partners will have to do a lot of answering. The usual rhetoric and raising the bogey of making Mumbai a union territory and that the city is safe in our hands will not work.

The slow pace of developing public transport, civic infrastructure in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) is only adding to the pressure on open spaces which are encroached upon by slums which are now turning out to be vote banks for some. It is little wonder then that the deadline to regularise slums keeps on extending itself to 2015 now. Who cares about people, their need for open spaces as long as there is space to play politics with both.

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