RTI Reveals Menace of Corporators’ and Their Family Members’ Names in Pune’s Public Spaces
While the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 halted the desire of Pune’s corporators to go on a spree of naming public spaces after their family members, when only 20 names were proposed and sanctioned, out of which 13 names were dedicated to corporators and their family members. About 100 proposals have been passed by the Pune municipal corporation’s (PMC's) naming committee on an average every year, in the past six years. 
An inspection of files under Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act conducted by this writer on Monday afternoon, seeking copies of proposals for naming public spaces like public gardens, primary schools, public halls, swimming pools, public libraries, public roads, public chowks and even public parking lots; revealed that about 50% names sanctioned were individual names belonging to the kith and kin of corporators.
As per the analysis of the data procured from the garden department of the PMC, 276 out of the 527 proposals sanctioned by the naming committee comprising local politicians (why no citizens of that neighbourhood in the committee?) are dedicated to these so-called self-styled privileged families of local elected representatives numbering around 150 in the about 4mn (million) population of the city.
So, in the past six years, the city has been brandished with new public infrastructure built out of taxpayers' money, which has been unknowingly channelised for private glorification of local netas. To name a few, Pune now has Janabai Ghanshyam Dangat Patil Chowk; Vitthalrao Genuji Tilekar Swimming Pool; Late KP Eknath Charwad Public Library; Late Sulochana Shantatai Surve Women’s Self-Help Group Centre; Late HP Rambhau Sakharam Shalende Garden; Shripatirao Ganpatrao Dharkude Bhavan and; Pandurang Tukaram Kavde Public Parking Zone. 
Ever heard of any of them? Obviously, not! These are just a handful and there are 276 such names which hardly any Puneite knows about.
What is shocking is that the naming committee of the PMC has no qualms over sanctioning such names which is done with extreme promptness, despite the fact that PMC’s own general resolution (GR) of 2000 (there has been no amendment since then) has strictly stated that all these public spaces can be named only after national leaders and stalwart environmentalists. Of course, there are a few public spaces named after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja, Ma Jijamata, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and so on.
The RTI data also reveals the dominance of private names for such proposals. On 5 January 2017, 15 out of 35 names; on 22 October 2018, 13 out of 28 names; on 21 January 2019, 9 out of 11 names; on 21 June 2021, 22 out of 27 names; on 17 February 2022, 11 out of 21 names proposed were of private individuals. 
Presently, the Salisbury Park neighbourhood is vociferously campaigning against the brazen action of the area’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) corporator, Shrinath Bhimale, who uprooted the board of ‘Pune Mahanagarpalika Garden’ overnight, last week, and put up the board, ‘Late Prof Yashwantrao Bhimale Garden’ in memory of his father. 
This has outraged the residents of Salisbury Park, as the public garden was the result of relentless efforts of four decades by citizens to restore the 70,000 square feet plot from the clutches of the builder who acquired it in the 1990s through its de-reservation by the PMC. The campaign, which triggered off with an online petition, is now fighting on the ground till the issue reaches the logical end.
Despite assurance by Mr Bhimale in November 2021, when the public garden was inaugurated, that no individual’s name would be put up as this is a historic citizen campaign, perhaps the first in the country that lasted for four decades; he surreptitiously changed the board on the night of 13th March as PMC is now controlled by the administrator since it is going for civic elections soon. So brazen have these local politicians become that they can snatch public landmarks without batting an eyelid. That’s because the citizenry has so far silently watched the privatisation of citizen spaces and amenities.
You will be surprised to know who the members are of the PMC’s naming committee. As per the PMC’s website, www.pmc.gov.in, they are all politicians or affiliated to politics. They are: Tingare Anil (Bobby) Vasantrao, Chairman, Gaikwad Kailas Marutrao, Gaikwad Sunil Alias Bandu, Marane Jayshree Gajanan, DakhaveAnita Dinesh, Shinde Asmita Vishal, Zende Sonam Mayur, Mrs. Tapkir Varsha Vilas, Mrs. Sahastrabuddhe Madhuri Shriram, Mrs. Deokar Sunandatai, Mrs. Bodke Manishatai, Hanamghar Vinayak and Dodke Sachin.  There is no profile data of any of these members. 
Quite logically, if public spaces are being named in neighbourhoods, should not there be public consultation before the naming committee approves of names? Citizens must fight to be included in the naming committee.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
1 year ago
Kudos to activists like Vinita Deshmukh due to whose vigil such shenanigan acts of the Corporators get revealed. I think there should be some system and criteria by which Activists are given due recognition in the society and say a pension paid by the government for their crusades against injustices ( similar what the legislators get paid for even a truncated assembly life or the recent Kerala Govt paying pension to the party worker assistants of Ministers). The common man will have no grudge if one of the numerous cess he is paying gets diverted to create a corpus for such pension payment.
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