The fight for Mumbai’s open spaces

Rajkumar Sharma was one of several activists, who argued that Mumbai’s Development Plan intended to devour open areas and had failed to consider the problems faced by different wards, and its citizens

Civic activist, Rajkumar Sharma, was instrumental in pressurising the Maharashtra government to scrap the 2014-34 draft development (DP) plan for Mumbai city.When Sharma studied the draft DP that Mumbai’s civic body put up for review by stakeholders, he felt that it merely pandered to the interests of builders.

“I was actively involved in the ward-level consultations with the civic body on the DP. However, after going through the plan, I was convinced that the city would collapse, if it was implemented,” he recalled. He questioned the civic body, on whether it had surveyed the number of households in the city and the expected increase, based on existing demand. “How could they have a uniform plan for the entire city, when the problems of Bandra were different from those of Colaba, Chembur, or Mira Road?” wondered Sharma, who is also a founder member of the Advanced Locality Management and Networking Action Committee, Chembur in Mumbai, a federation of 55 ALMs that deals with civic issues.


Rallying public support

For nearly four months, Sharma mobilised civic activists and residents in all wards, to rally against the DP. He specifically raised his voice, for the residents of the eastern suburbs. He felt that the plan had not taken into consideration the topography of many areas in this region, which were prone to disaster and pollution. The M-east, M-west, S, T and N civic wards in the city, are among the most hazardous zones, owing to the presence of three dumping grounds in the area, chemical factories, oil refineries and a bio-medical waste management facility.

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More than 1,000 heavy vehicles, including trucks, tankers, trailers and tempos, which are used to transport goods of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd, etc., are parked haphazardly all over the area, thereby, choking roads in Chembur. Moreover, the roads near Prabodh Nagar and Mahul area, are very narrow. The civic body’s plan made no provision for a special parking area, nor did it include a disaster plan that demarcated escape routes in case of any problem in these areas.

The authorities have also failed to take into consideration the huge slum pockets in Mankhurd, Govandi, Trombay and Mahul. Additionally, with numerous infrastructure projects coming up in the area and widening of roads, the green cover has reduced, as many trees have been felled. “The DP should not just be the BMC’s plan. It should be a common plan for the city, which involves all agencies and stakeholders. The draft DP mentioned several parcels of land in the area, as belonging to MMRDA, MbPT, Railways, etc. Why can’t the authorities evolve a plan that takes all these agencies into confidence?” he questions.

Sharma and thousands who fought with him, in getting the DP scrapped, are now trying to ensure that the flaws of the preliminary plan are not repeated, by regularly sending their suggestions. “If we don’t raise our voice against issues that concern the city, then, our future generations will suffer,” he concludes.

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