After throwing open the penguin exhibit to the common public, the Ranichi Baug in Mumbai, also known as Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan or Jijamata Udyan or Byculla zoo, is once again in news—and this time, it’s because of the 20-fold hike in the entry fee.

After Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) proposed to increase the entry fee from Rs 5 to Rs 100 per adult and Rs 2 to Rs 25 per child, a group, ‘Save Rani Bagh Botanical Garden Foundation’, has started an online petition to revoke the fee hike.

The group, which claims that the price hike would transform an egalitarian 156-year-old public heritage botanical garden into an elitist facility for the well-heeled, has already amassed 600 signatures against the “shockingly retrograde and anti-people proposal”.

On April 11, they wrote a letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis drawing his attention towards the issue. The trustees of the foundation have also written to BMC Standing Committee Chairman Ramesh Korgaonkar and the 26-committee members to reject this hike proposal, which is soon to be finalised.

Prominent personalities like former municipal commissioner Sharad Kale, former chief secretary of Maharashtra, D M Sukhtankar, former SC judge BN Srikrishna also expressed their support for this petition, which reads:

“The exorbitant expense for renovation of the zoo segment – grandiose schemes, import and maintenance of exotic animals such as penguins, outrageous consultancy fees, usage of needlessly expensive imported materials – is being used as an excuse to jack up the entry fee and effectively shut out underprivileged sections. Squandering taxpayers’ money and then excluding a majority of those very taxpayers, is indeed a cruel irony.

“The state has a bounden duty to ensure unfettered public access to Rani Bagh, Mumbai’s 156-year-old heritage botanical garden and largest green public space. We call upon the Municipal Commissioner to uphold democratic ideals and intervene to ensure that Rani Bagh’s entry fee remains affordable to citizens from all walks of life,” it read further.

Hutokshi Rustomfram, a trustee of the foundation who started this online petition campaign, claims that this is an anti-poor move by the rich corporation. With this fee hike, people from all walks of life who come to the garden to relax after long hours of work, won’t be able to access it.

The proposal for fee hike is on the table for final approval by the standing committee in BMC.