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08.02.2017

The Staff Aren’t Going Anywhere, For Now:

Joggers Park regulars have spent last week in a fog of emotion, thanks to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s decision to take the park back from the private association that’s been running it for nearly thirty years. One reason to wipe your tears: the BMC has assured its hugely popular staff of gate-keepers and gardeners that they will continue to be employed at the park as contractors. We ran behind longtime security staffer Orijit on a sweaty afternoon to confirm this. “Our salaries have been cut, but we must keep working for our rozi roti,” he says. (Since free entry is mandated at all BMC parks, the ticket-window staff have had to say goodbye.) 

The Bandra Citizens’ Forum Wants To Keep Funding The Park:

The ward’s municipal councillor, Asif Zakaria, says that the BMC took over the park because the caretakers, an NGO called the Bandra Citizens’ Forum, “were insisting since October that they didn’t want the responsibility any more.” The Bandra Citizens’ Forum, a trust formed by the Lokhandwala family (of builder fame), has run the park with the help of local residents since its inauguration in 1990. 

However, Abbas Arsiwala, a member of the trust, said at a meeting earlier this weekend that they would happily take over again if they were needed. “The family wants to keep funding the park,” he tells us when we call him. “Extraneous pressures”-indicating the BMC-“have caused us to surrender it.”

The BMC Can’t Talk About It Right Now:

The corporation can’t address any public meetings on the subject, thanks to the election Code Of Conduct, in effect until February 21. “The ideal scenario is for the BMC to maintain the parks and for residents to form local committees to submit ideas and feedback for the corporation to act on,” Zakaria says. “The BMC can’t talk about these ideas and policies for now, though.” 

“The ideal scenario is for the BMC to maintain the parks and for residents to form local committees to submit ideas and feedback for the corporation to act on."

More Than 7,000 People Hate This Decision…: 

Nikita Patodia was leaving yoga in the park last week when she saw a stranger sitting at a fold-out table to one side of the gate, canvassing entrants. She stayed back to help eighty-something Joggers habitué Mr Keswani, who’s running a signature campaign to appeal to the BMC to reverse its decision. “We got about 600 or 700 signatures that day,” Patodia says. She returned home to start the petition that’s gone semi-viral ever since. 

As we publish, the petition has more than 3,300 signatures; Mr Keswani’s offline campaign, Patodia tells us, has over 4,000. (For comparison, Mumbai Mirror says about 1500 people visit the park everyday.) She’s waiting for the online petition to get 5,000 backers before taking it to the authorities as proof of mass support for a BMC roll-back.  

There’s just one problem: the petition is currently addressed to Maharashtra’s chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis. 

...But The Chief Minister’s Probably Okay With It:

A Fadnavis order, however, is the reason the BMC has spent the last year pursuing its new “open spaces” policy, which obliges it to take over maintenance of public spaces. In 2016, the corporation started issuing notices for custody of scores of parks that were previously left to the care of residents’ associations and civic committees under an older “adoption” policy. Some of the city’s best-loved parks have become  battlegrounds as a result: even the formidable Priyadarshini Park is headed for a legal battle over alleged land use violations.

Public space should be governed by public servants, and the dream of free, non-discriminatory open spaces shouldn’t be too precious for anyone in Bombay.

Public space should be governed by public servants, and the dream of free, non-discriminatory open spaces shouldn’t be too precious for anyone in Bombay. The BMC’s record of poor maintenance makes this a hard selling point to angry park visitors, however - even Asif Zakaria, the councillor, acknowledges the general perception “that the BMC has a record of ruining public spaces.” (So do private parties, by the way -- a park just around the corner from Joggers, in the custody of a religious organisation, shoos children out of the garden every evening so that devotees won’t be disturbed at prayer time.)

With Joggers Park, it’s a case of “‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” says Darryl D’Monte, head of the Bandra West Residents Association. “This park hasn’t violated any of the conditions the BMC laid on the sponsorship of such public areas. If they’re anxious to get their house in order, they should start with parks that do violate rules, many of which are run by politicians.”  

“I’ve told the BMC that this is an opportunity for us to prove ourselves,” Zakaria says. “Joggers Park is the pride of Bandra, and everyone is very emotionally invested in it.” May its famous laughter club continue to regale itself - and maybe put a smile on some new faces, too?

Getting there: Joggers Park, Carter Road, next to Otters Club, Bandra West, no entry fee.

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