Playground in Mumbai opens to children after 9 years

Badri Chatterjee, Hindustan Times  May 16 2017

The 2,251 sq m playground on the premises of Akshara High School was opened on May 15 in accordance with orders passed by the Lokayukta on June 2, 2016

A playground in Charkop was opened for children on Monday, nine years after a school trust closed it.

The 2,251 sq m playground on the premises of Akshara High School was opened on May 15 in accordance with orders passed by the Lokayukta on June 2, 2016. Officials from the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) and the Mumbai police were at the site to ensure that the ground was opened.

In 2005, Mhada had allotted a 2,251-sq m plot to Vidya Shikshan Prasarak Mandal to construct a school and the playground in 2005. The playground was created in 2008. Residents complained that the school had enclosed land that was marked as a ‘public playground’ in municipal documents. They complained that the school trust, run by two politicians — a former minister and an MLA — had encroached on the ground and prohibited children from playing there. The Lokayukta ordered that the ground be open to children of the locality and actions under the order were to be executed by the Mhada and police within 48 hours. However, it has been done almost a year later.

“It took us time to go through all lease documents and understand the dimensions of the plot. It has been opened for the public and if children are stopped from playing here, action will be taken against the offenders,” said Yogesh Deshmukh, estate manager, Mhada.

On Monday, two signboards were put up, one at the school’s entrance and the other at the playground that read, “As per orders of the Lokayukta Maharashtra state, the playground of the composite school will remain open between 6am and 7.30pm daily for children of the Charkop locality.”

The encroachment of the public ground was first reported by Kandivli resident Reji Abraham in 2013. He had alleged that the school’s trust had grabbed the land, constructed gates and made it into their own private property. The Lokayukta and Mhada issued notices to the school last year. However, the school did not respond to them and orders were issued to make the ground a public property.

“The school is located less than 50m away from the mangroves. There was an environmental violation as debris had been dumped to make the ground. An FIR was filed by the Charkop police against the school’s trust under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. However, no action has been taken against the school authorities,” said Abraham. “Our efforts have at least enabled children play on the ground.”

Abraham also alleged that the school premises was constructed by reclaiming mangrove forests illegally. “We are fighting the matter at the National Green Tribunal and will ensure that the illegal structures are removed and the mangroves restored,” he said.

Meanwhile, BJP MLA Ashish Deshmukh, a school trustee, refused to comment on the matter.

What the Lokayukta had said

 On June 2, 2016, the Lokayukta, Justice (retired) M L Tahaliyani directed the Charkop police station to deploy police personnel at the playground located within the premises of Akshara High School to ensure that no child is obstructed from playing.

“This office has to pass interim orders to protect the ground and the make them available to children residing in the colonies of Charkop,” said the Lokayukta, adding, “The gates of the playground shall be kept open from 6am to 7pm.

Anyone trying to obstruct the entry of children should be criminally prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code.”

Mangrove forests at Kandivli are falling prey to repeated cases of encroachments and mangrove destruction.

HT reported on May 5 that more than 20 acres (8 ha) of mangrove forests have been destroyed through debris dumping at Charkop, Kandivli, over the past seven years with 3,000 shanties and private properties constructed illegally on both reserved forest and private mangrove land.

The Law

The destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50m of mangrove areas was banned by the Bombay high court in 2005, after a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by the NGO Bombay Environment Action Group. In 2014, after Vanashakti filed another PIL on the protection of wetlands, the HC banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands.

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