Mumbai: Residents Secure Victory In Saving Lokhandwala Joggers Park From Encroachment

Mumbai: Residents Secure Victory In Saving Lokhandwala Joggers Park From Encroachment

Residents voiced concerns about unauthorized activities within the park premises, including the cooking and serving of langar (free food) without legal sanction, operating catering businesses, and converting the caretaker’s room into a religious space—a Gurdwara.

RUCHA KANOLKARUpdated: Thursday, May 30, 2024, 01:26 AM IST
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Representative Image | FPJ

Mumbai: After months of relentless efforts, residents of Andheri’s Lokhandwala have successfully safeguarded Joggers Park from encroachment. The community had been fervently opposing the construction of an illegal structure and an open kitchen within the park, which had reportedly been transformed into a religious site without obtaining the necessary permissions.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has issued an order to Gurudwara Shaheed Baba Deepsingh Ji, mandating the removal of the unauthorized structure at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Joggers Park on Wednesday. The BMC's order explicitly directs the removal of the illegal construction within 15 days, warning that failure to comply will result in the structure being demolished at the Gurudwara's risk and cost, with demolition charges to be recovered from them.

Residents voiced concerns about unauthorized activities within the park premises, including the cooking and serving of langar (free food) without legal sanction, operating catering businesses, and converting the caretaker’s room into a religious space—a Gurdwara. Additionally, the park was being utilized for various events, including weddings. Complaints were also filed regarding the construction being within 50 meters of a mangrove area.

Despite numerous complaints, the BMC failed to address the issue. Anuj Mittal, Secretary of the Lokhandwala Joggers Park Association, stated, "We met with our ward officer many times, but he always said they were under tremendous political pressure and could not act on this matter." Following the BMC's inaction, the citizens of Lokhandwala filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) at the Bombay High Court. "The core committee raised funds, and residents of Lokhandwala and the surrounding areas contributed generously," Mittal added.

On May 9, the Bombay High Court directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to ensure no further construction or encroachment occurs in Joggers Park. The court also mandated that the nearby mangroves must not be damaged or disturbed.

The BMC's order reiterated, "According to Section 475A of the MMC Act, owners can face imprisonment for a minimum of three months, extendable up to three years, along with a fine ranging from ₹10,000 to ₹50,000. In cases of persistent offenses, an additional daily fine of up to ₹1,000 may be imposed."

Prashant Rane, an MNS activist and resident of Lokhandwala, expressed his frustration, stating, "There are very few open spaces left in a city like Mumbai, and it's shameful that we're not even safeguarding the existing ones. Removing the illegal structure was BMC's responsibility, but they failed us miserably. Despite their vast resources, we were forced to seek justice from the High Court. If BMC continues to neglect its duty, we'll resort to MNS-style protests. We're not disrespecting anyone's religious sentiments, but the Gurudwara should have a legitimate, non-encroached space. We don't want to see a Gurdwara next to a toilet. This raises serious questions about BMC's competence. And where are the elected politicians and representatives? K West ward pays the highest assessment tax and yet receives such inadequate service. People had to come together and fund a PIL. We demand answers from BMC: why did they fail to act sooner?"

Anuj Mittal remarked with relief, "The High Court's instructions to the BMC to bring this matter to a logical conclusion are a victory for truth. Show cause notices have been issued, reaffirming that no construction is permissible in this buffer zone. The misuse of the park has been exposed. It was disheartening to witness local politicians colluding with them merely for votes. We faced numerous restrictions within the park, hindering our ability to exercise freely, such as not being able to do stretching or exercises with the help of the wall. Our final plea to the High Court is for the park to be entrusted to the BMC for maintenance, ensuring it remains a public space accessible to all. We were never against the Gurudwara or any religion, but solely opposed the illegal structures. Now, it will once again serve as an open space for everyone."

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