The hall that BR Ambedkar set up as a safe haven for Dalits was pulled down in an overnight demolition. While trustees at Ambedkar Bhawan say building was dilapidated; Republican Sena says it's an illegal move
The overnight demolition of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Bhawan, behind Chitra Cinema in Dadar East, led to a traffic jam after members of the Republican Sena staged a rasta roko to protest the demolition.
The bookstore in the property was started in 1991. The space, which had books in Hindi, Marathi and English and included recently published red in the Belly, published by The Shared Mirror apart from biographies and works of Ambedkar
Ramesh Jadhav, of the Republican Sena, said, "The building is a revered place for Ambedkar followers. We are told that the trust that runs the building plans to develop a building there. When a building that holds Ambedkar history isn't secure, how can we people staying in slums feel secure?"
Demolition of dilapidated building
VP Mote, assistant municipal commissioner, F/South ward, said, "The building was in extremely dilapidated condition or what we call C1 category. We had served it a notice under section 354 of the MMC Act in May, asking the owners to demolish it within stipulated time. Accordingly, they started the demolition and there is a redevelopment proposal in place. They have got the first permission from the building proposal department. It is a private property. The owners must have demolished it, and not the BMC administration."
The rubble at Ambedkar Bhawan. While the members of the People's Improvement Trust, responsible for the running of Ambedkar Bhawan, say that the library and press are intact, Republican Sena members allege otherwise. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Ratnakar Gaikwad, former chief secretary of Maharashtra, who is alleged to have orchestrated the demolition said he is not a member of the said trust. He said, "A new, grand building with 17 floors, which will be the central headquarters for dalits, as desired by Babasaheb, will start soon as a majority of funding is being given by the government. The BMC has already approved plans for the new building and the Chief Minister did a bhoomi pujan here on April 14, 2016, (Ambedkar's birthday) and called upon the Trust to complete construction within two years."
While it was feared that the printing press, which was set up by BR Ambedkar after the plot was purchased in 1944, had also been demolished, Madhukar Kamble of the People's Improvement Trust, which is responsible for the daily running of Ambedkar Bhawan, said that is not so.
"We only demolished the hall, and the offices as they were in bad shape. The library and other parts haven't been touched. We have hired guards to protect the books and no trespassing is allowed. All the books are safe, and we will shift them out when we demolish that section. The press will be reset up at a better location within the new building," he added.
However, Ajmal Khan, a member of Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, said that by the time he reached the spot at 1 pm, the library-cum-store had been demolished and a lot of books went under the rubble. "Some were damaged by water. We handed over the books we managed to recover to the people in charge of the store, who were present by then."
Property dispute or dilapidated state?
Kamble said that allegations by the Republican Sena that the demolition was done on the sly are also false. He says that Ananadraj Ambedkar, Republican Sena leader and grandson of BR Ambedkar, had been sent a letter with an attached copy of a BMC notice [which stated that the building was dilapidated and needed to be demolished] and even informed him about demolition. "We had asked him to come, sit and talk with us, but he didn't. We had given public notices about the demolition and only after following all legal procedures have we gone ahead with demolition," Kamble said.
He said that they followed the mandatory 30-day notice period and only after that was the demolition conducted. He claimed that the hall, which can accommodate nearly 400 people, was dilapidated and they couldn't risk the lives of people. Hence, they first demolished the hall and offices. However, Anandraj said he'd received no notice about the demolition. "We only got a BMC notice for an audit. The notice mentioned the deadline of July 4. The manner in which the demolition happened is unaccepted."
He said there were two bulldozers and countless bouncers on spot 2 am on Saturday when the demolition was conducted. The Republican Sena members, he said, were given no chance to salvage the books. "In fact, we have complained of the robbery too at the Bhoiwada police station because furniture, air conditioners and cupboards have been taken away," he said.
BR Ambedkar purchased this land in 1944 and wanted to turn it into a hub of social and cultural activity and a marriage hall. The People's improvement Trust was set up in the same year. The bookstore in the property was started in 1991. The space, which looked like a large stall had books in Hindi, Marathi and English and included recently published titles like Hatred in the Belly, published by The Shared Mirror apart from biographies and works of Ambedkar. "There were many notes and essays by Ambedkar which are now under the debris," Anand Ambedkar said.
The officers at Bhoiwada police station said that they have filed two separate FIRs in the case. One concerns the demolition of the library and the other of the printing press. Both FIRs, they say, are against the trustees. However, the officers did not reveal the names against whom the said FIRs have been filed.
Officers added that the dispute between Ambedkar's grandsons and the trustees of the property has been ongoing. ACP Dinesh Joshi admitted that the situation in Dadar on Saturday was tense and the police had been deployed in large numbers.
— With inputs by Tanvi Deshpande and Saurabh Vaktania
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