Ground won, banner unfurls in Bandra

This Independence Day was particularly special for these residents of Gandhi Nagar in Bandra (E). They hoisted the Tricolour to mark their sweet victory against people who wanted to usurp the common man’s playground and turn it into a commercial haven.

On Friday morning, at the stroke of 9, more than 100 residents gathered at the Gandhi Nagar Maidan to hoist the flag. The showers could not dampen their spirits.

“We struggled a lot for the ground. We fought against all odds and forces to acquire the maidan. We hoisted a flag on the ground for the first time this Republic Day and thought we should continue with the practice,” said Neelima Vaidya, a resident. “The pride and freedom that we feel when the flag flutters high on that ground is simply great. Henceforth, we will always hoist a flag on this ground. It has its own sweetness,” she added.

In their struggle for open spaces, residents of Bandra (E) refused to budge from their portion of the cricket field during a commercial tournament in January. The MIG protest proved to be a coup in the battle to keep playgrounds open for the public. Ever since, they have been successful in using the ground.

Residents said the ground used to be open only for a couple of hours in the morning and evening. Moreover , they were also denied entry on Sundays on the pretext that the ground was used for cricket matches . When the game was interrupted that day, residents said no matches were held again.

The struggle started in 1994 when the residents were denied permission to hold their annual sports meet. “In 1994, we wrote a routine letter to the BMC asking for permission to hold our Annual Sports Day on the Gandhi Nagar ground. We were denied permission. We were told that the ground did not belong to the public any longer as it had been taken over by MIG Club,” said Prabhakar Jamkhedkar, resident and a foundermember of the Gandhi Nagar Maidan Bachao Samiti.

Years ago, the ground was given by Mhada on a 60-year lease to the BMC, which, in turn, leased out the land to MIG Club. The BMC refused to give Mhada the transfer of development rights for the leased plot, arguing that it was government land and not an acquired plot. The result was that Mhada conducted some unspecified transaction with the club and transferred the land to the latter . MIG Club’s ownership of the land-and the BMC’s loss of it-came to light when mayor Shubha Raul tried to take up the residents’ cause.

Even as Mumbai’s open space-topeople ratio was considered to be one of the lowest in the world, the BMC proposed to parcel off huge chunks of land to private parties in November . Citizens fought to protect the green lungs and got the state to stay the BMCs plan. The Gandhi Nagar victory strengthened the cause.

The ground is now open from 5 am to 10 pm and the locals have free access to it. “Our children use the ground every day and the matches on Sundays have stopped as well. We feel that our ground has come back to us,” said Agnelo D’Souza , who played a key role in the movement.

(This is the first in a series on the present-day struggles of Mumbaikars and the small victories won by them, which have gone a long way to make Mumbai a better place to live in)

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