Concerned citizens and a political leader, along with several prominent speakers, voiced their support for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to take responsibility for open spaces in collaboration with local groups acting as watchdogs. The issue was discussed at a public meeting titled "Open Spaces - Stop Kidnap Policy by BMC/State Government," organised by the Bombay Catholic Sabha at St. Michael's Church auditorium in Mahim. The meeting was convened in response to news reports suggesting that the stay on the open space policy would be lifted, following a meeting between political leaders from the ruling dispensation and the Chief Minister, who sought to lift the stay.
Notable speakers at the event included Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner; Mahesh Zagade, former Principal Secretary and former Pune Municipal Commissioner; Bhaskar Prabhu of Mahiti Adhikar Manch; Anil Galgali, veteran RTI user; P Sriganesh, civic activist, and Ameet Satam, Andheri West MLA. The Catholic Sabha invited Satam, the sole politician in attendance, as he had taken an open stand on the issue of the open space policy, and they hoped that he would follow up on the matter. The Catholic Sabha claimed that other political leaders had not responded to the invitation.
'Entire city cannot be taken hostage'
Satam expressed his stance, stating, "Only because of 41 people who want to keep open spaces under their control, the entire city cannot be taken hostage. I will urge citizens to meet the Municipal Commissioner and demand that the remaining 41 open spaces also be taken over by the BMC." Some of these open spaces are currently controlled by political leaders, including those from the ruling party.
The speakers highlighted concerns regarding the proposed open space policy, emphasising that even though the term "caretaker" might be dropped, there were indirect methods to allow those in possession to retain control. These methods involved clauses related to the money spent on the area of open space, making it difficult for others to become eligible. The speakers argued that individuals who invested in open spaces should not have a sense of ownership, as the responsibility for maintenance should lie with the BMC, supported by funding from the corporation.
Mahesh Zagade cautioned citizens to be vigilant about the policies drafted by bureaucrats and the administration, urging them not to accept any policy blindly. Zagade stated, "There is no need for a policy. It is the BMC's responsibility to maintain open spaces." He questioned why citizens should allow others to benefit from and control open spaces that are maintained using public funds. He pointed out that in Pune, all open spaces are managed by the Municipal Corporation.
Activists voice their concerns
Activists emphasised the importance of providing information about the expenditure on open spaces, allowing citizens to conduct social audits. Bhaskar Prabhu raised concerns about instances where significant amounts of money were being spent, but citizens had no knowledge of how the funds were utilized. Zagade suggested that such information should be proactively provided by the administration under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.