The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had handed over 216 of such premises to private parties under its adoption policy for open spaces. Of these, the BMC has claimed 126 back after public furore, while 90 remain in the hands of third the adoptive parties. These parties are supposed to adhere to the set of rules laid out by BMC for grounds maintenance: these relate to timing, upkeep, access, insignia, amenities and so forth. Our expedition intends to record if these rules are being followed, if citizens can utilise the grounds as per their original stated use, and peripherally, if they aid in maximising the use of the gardens by the public.
Featuring first in our series are the two civic open spaces in Kalachowki in central Mumbai maintained by an NGO.
The bylaws say each open space is supposed to sport two prominently displayed signboards declaring that it is BMC property. But the two gardens had just one signboard each that could be seen by a passerby on the street — neither stated conspicuously that it is a public garden.
As per the Brahmakumaris’ agreement with the BMC, the grounds are supposed to be open for six hours, from 6 to 9 in the morning and 4 to 7 in the evening. A board outside each announced as much. It was open hours at Joshi Udyan at the time of our visit, but downtime at Rajguru by the time we go there. Groundskeepers or security guards — if any have been appointed — were nowhere to be seen, leaving the premises open to encroachment from fringe elements. There is no entrance fee.
While Joshi Udyan has a play area with swings, slides and an al-fresco gymnasium, the play apparatus is in disrepair. The slides had broken edges; the swings were creaky and decrepit. Other appurtenances, except for in the gym which was in fine shape, were rusty. We saw children playing in ankle-deep muddy water. Giant puddles had formed under the swing set.
The garden was split into two, with one part fenced off. A secondary gate was bolted. The walkways, overtaken by rank bushes and stagnant rainwater, hardly afforded place to walk. The benches by its side seemed to have fallen in disuse of late, likely due to the monsoon. Senior citizens seated outside the garden said it opens at 4pm.
Since Hutatma Rajguru Udyan, locked when we visited it, did not have a watchman, there was no way to check if it opens on time. But one could see a giant marquee set up inside for Navratri celebrations. Between this and a provisional mediation centre at the far end, there was no space left to walk or sit.
We follow BMC rules: Curator
Rohini Sawla from Prajapita Brahmakumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya said the gardens have been preserved in the same condition as when the BMC handed them over, and the local residents are content with the way things are. “In fact, we have beautified the place and developed it further,” Sawla said, claiming all civic rules are adhered to.
Referring to the meditation chamber, she said: “We have put up some temporary structures but only with the BMC’s permission. The meditation room is only for the time being; we don’t stop anyone from using it.”
About the small number of hours the garden remains open, she said: “BMC decided the garden timings, but we keep the play area open throughout the day since there is a school in the vicinity. And when there are more visitors, we keep it open even after the stipulated time.”
Opened to public recently: Corporator
Contradicting the organisation’s claims, local Shiv Sena corporator Vaibhavi Chavan, who functions as a link between the organisation, BMC and residents, said the public was barred from using the garden until a year ago, and the premises were unkempt, strewn with litter.
“We got complaints that the Brahmakumaris don’t let people use the space. So we held a meeting with their office-bearers, civic officials and residents, and asked them to ensure that it remain open for residents. Local legislator Ajay Chaudhary also took up the issue. Since they run a meditation centre and hold prayer meets, people feel it is a private garden, but we have asked them to let everyone enter,” Chavan said, adding, “We also got everything cleaned up. Now they are maintaining it.”
If there are complaints, they are taken up by the BMC, she said, adding that she’d review the spaces once again.