The land under one of the city’s busiest flyovers has been turned into a public park after a years-long effort by local residents.
A 660-m patch of land, sandwiched between Ruia College and King’s Circle in Mumbai, has become a study in how proactive citizens and civic officials can create art in a concrete jungle.
The land under one of the city’s busiest flyovers has been turned into a public park after a years-long effort by local residents. The 7,200-sq m park is a precious oasis amid two carriageways on either side, a place for respite.
Named after the flyover, the Nanalal D. Mehta Park resulted from the local residents’ will to beautify the place. Although encounters with Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation officials were not always pleasant, with the residents even rejecting the civic body’s ideas for the space, the end product has been a huge hit, Nikhil Desai, a retired engineer from the neighbourhood told The Indian Express. Desai was among the first few residents who floated the idea of turning the space into a public park.
The blue-hued mosaic walking track is the park’s first striking aspect. It resembles a swimming pool floor, and was designed around the Narmada — from its Amarkantak starting point to where it meets the Arabian Sea at Bharuch. The river is the blue walkway, with landscape and greenery on the sides symbolising eight landmarks situated along the river. The seating also resembles the steps of a ghat on the riverbank.
The garden is covered by the width of the flyover above, keeping it shaded during the day. When it rains, however, water pours through the flyover’s thin separation.
The area is fenced by an iron grille, hidden from the naked eye by the dense foliage along the walkway.
Desai said it was totally traffic-safe inside. However, the noise is deafening as the noise from motor engines and the blare of horns cannot be cut out without ear muffs or earphones.
People walk up and down the park to burn calories, while the benches offer the senior citizens a space to rest.
Class XII student Pooja Chedde said she was a regular visitor when she wanted a break from studies. While Chedde started coming to the park only recently, her mother is a regular and loves the space. It was a regular hangout spot for Ruia College students before the pandemic.
The idea to build a public garden came from the residents of the buildings on either side of the flyover. The flyover had just come up and the space below was being used as a parking location for taxis. The residents feared that it would become an open-air urinal, said citizen-activist Desai.
A 2013 high court order prohibiting the use of space under flyovers as parking lots armed the citizens. When they first approached the civic body, they were redirected to Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which owned the land underneath the flyover it had built.
The MMRDA agreed to the citizens’ suggestion and invited private players to submit expressions of interest to execute it. It also asked the residents to put forward ideas, but those turned out to be fanciful and expensive.
Desai said someone wanted a basketball court while another wanted a badminton court. The MMRDA had also told the residents to raise half the money —Rs 1.50 crore — for the project to take off.
The fundraising then hit a wall, while the MMRDA transferred the land to the civic body. Some residents also approached the local legislator, who promised to implement the plan. But after barely scraping through in the 2014 elections, the promise was forgotten.
Desai then approached the civic body’s Additional Commissioner S.V.R Srinivas. Within a short period, it had readied a plan of its own.
Garden Infrastructure Cell Civil Engineer Umesh Parvade said the community members were angry because the civic body rejected their earlier plan, which was deemed to be unviable. They even tried to stop work on the garden. But they soon realised the civic body had built a state-of-the-art park and finally appreciated it. The project was finished in 2015 and the park handed over to the gardens department, Parvade said.
Specially built tanks at one end of the garden provide water for the plants. There used to be lighting along the park’s length through the foliage beds that made the place look magical in the evenings. Those lights don’t work anymore, but late evening walkers get enough light from the streetlights.
Desai said the garden idea also received compliments from Indian expatriates in the US and Dubai.
The civic body has now followed the idea with a public park under the Dadar TT flyover. But it is a garden of five sections because of several traffic lights.
While vehicular exhaust is a problem for the flyover garden, the plants act as a green shield, while the pandemic-induced masks are blocking the fumes.