Vantage point

Monday, January 23, 2006

Open Spaces in South Mumbai?

We often hear about how there should be more open spaces in big cities. All of us hate builders who covet the few patches of remaining greenery amongst concrete and seek to start building something on it.

What if I told you that there were 50 acres of lush greenery to which the common public has very little access? What if I told you it was located in a prime real estate hot spot - South Mumbai? What if I told you that it is our taxes that pay for the maintenance of this place whose contribution to actual governance is at best negligible?

Wouldn't you, like me, be surprised about why environmentalists and NGOs don't protest about this land hoarding?

The Raj Bhavan at Walkeshar, is at one end of Marine Drive. It is 50 acres of lush greenery and sprawling architecture, not to mention, some nice beaches. Yet, how many of us Mumbaikars have ever visited Raj Bhavan? How accessible is it? If some of us working in cramped and crowded Nariman Point want a small break, can we drive down to Raj Bhavan for a calming stroll?


The Raj Bhavan is the official residence of the Governor of Maharashtra, and the security there is pretty tight. Access is quite restricted and it is not a "public" space, but more of a personal "jahagir" of the government. In fact Raj Bhavan is a symbol of the reality of the Indian state - i.e we didn't really win our "freedom" in 1947, instead the white folks were replaced by brown ones. Of course, we were able to sing a few songs we couldn't and hoist a flag without being caned.

The Britishers also monopolised the 'coolest' places, made them off limits for the common Indian, sat there and sipped tea luxuriously, having forcibly taken charge of running people's lives, complaining about the heat. Today's brown sahibs are the same, except that air conditioning ensures that they don't complain about the heat. Especially since they have ensured that they live in South Bombay, which does not suffer power cuts even when the state is in a power crisis.

Next time you are standing at Marine Drive, look at its right-most end. That is Raj Bhavan, a picturesque facility you pay for with your taxes, where you aren't allowed to just walk in and take a stroll, and which is supposed to be the residence of a human rubber stamp, the Governor, a post which has no real meaning in the set-up other than being a consolation prize for politicians who are unwanted, but also difficult to disgrace.

And the next time you meet an environmentalist or an NGO, ask them what they are doing about "liberating" Raj Bhavan from the clutches of the Saahib. I know I am going to.