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Bandra Reclamation

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(Re-) Defining Public Spaces

Processes of planning and allotment of resources in the city have relied predominantly on the abstract standards and norms given for specific regions — standards that work like thumb-rules, determining the percentage of a particular reservation, based on the population that the reservation has to serve. The Development Plan, and the reservations made therein, are manifestations of planning based on such thumb rules and norms, dictating the distribution and allotment of land as a resource for ‘public’ and ‘private’ uses in the City.

Such planning however fails to take cognisance — commenting here particularly on public spaces — of the varying nature of associations that different groups of people have with public spaces. Such groupings could be economic, based on age or even on gender. Thus, while classical ‘lungs’ such as open greens, maidans, waterfront-promenade developments, public gardens etc. continue to form the predominant definitions of what constitutes ‘public spaces”, the experience of Mumbai seems to provide ample evidence to the production of various “other public spaces” by different groups of people, reflecting their interests and aspirations. In fact, our studies of existing open spaces in the city — Shivaji Park and Oval Maidan — have revealed that the comparative ‘public-ness’ of these open spaces lies in their ability or inability to be able to act as a harbour for various interest groups (and their smaller unplanned public spatial formations). The production of such ‘unplanned’ spaces lies outside the present realm of the planning process. Consequently, the Development Plan — the state’s essential tool for planned distribution of land as a resource — remains devoid of this softer understanding of the aspirations and perceptions of interest groups, and the nature of their associations with and use of public spaces.

Most existing open spaces in the city are either occasional destination points or picnic spots — such as Borivali National Park. Out of what remains for everyday activities, most open spaces are being appropriated for private use, through programmes such as private clubs, or because they are connected to institutions such as schools. This seriously limits the quantum of ‘open spaces as public spaces’, available to the common public for daily use. Newer paradigms of public spaces are being defined through elitist and highly restrictive/exclusive programmes such as shopping malls, club-houses and entertainment parks such as Esselworld. These seem to follow a market logic which serves the interests of the elite consumers and developers, more than of the common public. It is vital for usat this juncture to be able to redefine what constitutes the realm of the ‘public’ and the ‘everyday’. In Mumbai, the notion of “open spaces as public spaces” is being challenged, and is in need of review.

The Recreational Ground (RG) under consideration falls within the Bandra Reclamation area — identified as Block A under the Bandra-Kurla Complex Plan prepared by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA). The Government of Maharashtra sanctioned these reservations through the Development Plans (DP) for the years 1981–2001 for the H-East and H-West wards of Mumbai (DP Sheet no. 52). This prime urban land, which lies on the western coast of Mumbai, belongs to the Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA). In mid-2003, there had been numerous rumours and media reports that, under the directives of certain local politicians, the land had been gifted to private developers. Leading newspapers carried articles that seemed to confirm the fate of the plot, claiming that a cabinet sub-committee under the Chief Minister had allotted the land to certain developers, to be developed for ‘public purposes’, primarily housing. There were yet others claiming that several developers were vying for the plot so as to develop a club-house on the site. In the wake of such rumoured political rumours, the local residents’ association — the General Arun Kumar Vaidya Nagar Rahiwasi Sangh — decided to approach the Bombay High Court with a plea for saving the plot and maintaining its use as an open public space.

As immediate residents, this group laid claim to the plot, demarcated as a Recreational Ground — and to its present use as a open public space. Their prime grievance was that the land had been promised to the members’ cooperative societies as an amenity at the time of allotment of plots in Bandra Reclamation, and any change of user would violate the rights of the residents towards the use of this public resource. Additionally, the members’ societies had already paid the MHADA a lease premium that far superseded the actual cost of the land prevailing at the time of allotment, and of the reclamation of the area. The state seemed to be attempting a change of user with complete disregard to the provisions made in the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act (MRTP) of 1966. This Act states that the concerned planning authority, before effecting ‘change of user’ of any land should publish a gazetted notice, to invite objections and suggestions from affected individuals and institutions, and to make modifications (if any) only after giving a hearing to such individuals and institutions.

The A.K.Vaidya Nagar Residents’ Association approached CRIT to formulate a proposal for safeguarding the DP reservation of the plot, and to draw out strategies for the subsequent adoption and upkeep of the public space by the residents. The case seemed to be a typical instance in which the state was vested with the powers to allot and distribute state land for public purposes — a tool formulated to maintain balanced and equitable development within the city, blatantly misappropriated to serve the interests of a few. In the process of transferring a shared resource of the city into private hands, not only was the decision-making process untransparent but the interpretation of ‘public purpose’ – here public housing and/or private club-house – seemed extremely dubious. CRIT undertook this study as a part of its ongoing experiments in Mumbai, with the aim of being able to conceptualise varying conflicts and visions for the said site and in the process inform the planning processes with the interests, aspirations and associations that various groups of people have with public spaces and to formulate relevant developmental and management models for such conditions.

Collaborators
Partners
General A.K. Vaidya Nagar Residents’ Association,
Bandra (West), Mumbai
 
 

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