For a community to whom open spaces are a luxury, encroachment of our open spaces comes as a big pinch. In the past few months, we have seen two of our vital open spaces getting ‘kidnapped’. This has affected our access to these spaces – a public library and a ground.
So, on 18th May 2023, we, the residents of Govandi gathered in front of a library at the Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj Udyan to protest against the encroachment on the open spaces.
Govandi is part of the M-East ward, which is one of the poorest and has the lowest Human Development Index in the city. Most of the residents of Govandi live in settlements or rehabilitation colonies with small houses and bare minimum facilities. We rely heavily on open spaces to study, conduct cultural, socio-religious, and sport activities.
Private agencies have threatened to usurp two of our vital open spaces in the past few months.
Unauthorised use of precious public spaces
The library cum study centre at the Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj Udyan, is an important space for the community. This library was inaugurated in 2019 but could not be used due to the pandemic. After the pandemic, local students requested the local MLA to reopen the library. but they were turned away. It took persistent protests to finally open the library in March 2022. The library has benefitted around 150 students from the area.
However, an unauthorised construction in the library, threatens to convert the entire library into a full fledged skill and testing center. This could displace the students and limit their access to this public facility. We allege that the skill and testing centre is being used by the local MLA for his personal gains, including conducting political campaigns.
Another important open space is the Rajaram Patil Ground commonly known as the RBK ground amongst locals. In July 2022, the ground was leased to the RBK international school for 11 months till August 2023. We had complained to the BMC about the lease, as neither a tender was invited nor was a notification issued by BMC for the maintenance of the ground.
About 4 months ago, we noticed a cricket coaching camp set up on the ground. The staff at the coaching camp claim that party workers of the Samajwadi Party had the necessary permissions from the M East ward and hence set up the camp. We do not have access to the ground.
So the lease is now given to two different parties, which is against the garden policy of the BMC. When confronted on how a single property could be leased to two parties, the assistant garden supervisor Karindikar arrogantly said that it was the BMC’s property and they could lease it to whomever they please.
We are in the the process of seeking legal remedies to get back the library and RBK ground.
In a similar case in Kandivali in 2003, the BMC, under its adoption policy, allotted a ground to the Mumbai Cricket Association. This was developed into a cricket academy and club house. In response to the PIL filed by AAP challenging the club house, the High Court ruled that it is the duty of the BMC to ensure that the playground remains open to the public, albeit with limited hours of access.
Similarly, it is the duty of the BMC needs to ensure that the Govandi residents have access to the ground at large.
Relentless spirit of community
Govandi Citizens, a resident welfare association that works on issues of health, education and environment, trying to bridge the gap between authorities and citizens. The open spaces campaign is our most recent campaign. This campaign stresses upon the right of citizens to access open spaces.
Govandi Citizens has been fighting to restore the status quo of the open spaces. We are relentlessly pursuing the matter with the M East ward commissioner and additional municipal commissioner of the Eastern suburbs. However, our efforts have not yielded any results. All the designated officers have acted inefficiently and have failed to stop the encroachment.
More recently, on July 13th, we convened a meeting in the chamber of the deputy municipal commissioner zone 5 to discuss the issue. After the meeting, the BMC issued a notice to the local politicians.
We actively use social media portals such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to voice our cause. We have written letters to the BMC, specifically to the assistant ward commissioner and deputy municipal commissioner zone 5, but to no avail.
For a community that is so dependent on open spaces, this comes as a huge setback. Instead of monetising from the spaces, the BMC should improve them and make it accessible to all. It’s a case of a marginalised section of society being pushed further into the brink.
(Writing assistance provided by Lisann Dias)