Another Kalbadevi disaster waiting to happen at Fort?

Despite the Kalbadevi inferno highlighting the need to keep the Mumbai's roads clear to allow the fire brigade better access during rescue operations, illegal double and triple parking is rampant right outside the Fort fire station, impeding its responsiveness in emergencies

It seems the authorities are still slow to learn from the recent Kalbadevi fire disaster, where rescue operations were impeded by haphazardly parked vehicles blocking the roads. Despite this mishap being a clear warning of the need to regulate parking, it now looks as though another Kalbadevi could be waiting to happen with illegal parking rampant outside the Fort fire station as well.

Vehicles are often found parked haphazardly right outside the Fort fire station, which causes delays in the fire brigade’s response to emergencies. After a similar issue impeded rescue operations at the Kalbadevi inferno, fire officials now intend to write to the Traffic police to resolve the problem. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Vehicles are often found parked haphazardly right outside the Fort fire station, which causes delays in the fire brigade’s response to emergencies. After a similar issue impeded rescue operations at the Kalbadevi inferno, fire officials now intend to write to the Traffic police to resolve the problem. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

According to officials, every time the fire engines are taken out to attend to a call, the fire brigade has to first wait for the parked vehicles occupying three lanes, at times to be moved, causing loss of precious time in emergencies. Such haphazard parking has long been a sore point with the local residents as well, who allege that the Traffic cops themselves are involved, as they often turn a blind eye to the situation in return for bribes.

However, fire officials now intend to write to the Traffic police to complain about the issue. The Fort fire station is located on S A Brelvi Marg, which is part of the Horniman Circle. Right on the opposite side is a BMC pay-and-park facility run by private contractors. Not only are motorists charged more than the regular BMC rates for parking, vehicles are often double- and triple-parked here.

While this puts locals at great inconvenience, the bigger issue is that the illegally parked vehicles block the way of the fire brigade. “Double- and triple-parking is a real problem in this area. Every time there is an emergency, we first have to ask the people who run the pay-and-park facility to clear the road,” said a senior official from Fort fire station.

Surprisingly, the fire brigade is yet to write to either the BMC or the Traffic police over the matter. Instead, the officials simply call up the Traffic control room every time there is an emergency and a vehicle is in the way. The Traffic cops then visit the area and clear the road. “It is definitely a menace. Citizens also face problems because of this. How many times can we tell the Traffic department about it?” said P S Rahangdale, acting chief fire officer.

Parking racket
The pay-and-park ground opposite the fire station is a facility provided by the BMC, but is run by private contractors. However, despite the contractors changing several times over the years, the same two people one Balasaheb Borade and his mother-in-law have continued to operate it for as long as 25 years.

When mid-day visited the ground, Borade had neither an identity card, nor a receipt book for parking slips, leave alone a copy of the agreement with BMC licensing him to operate the place. “We have been running this parking lot for a long time now. Nobody asks me for a receipt here.

I take care of the local vehicles and in the remaining space, allow other vehicles to be parked. I charge a flat rate of Rs 10 for two-wheelers and R30 for four-wheelers,” said Borade, in contradiction to standard BMC rates, which start from R3 for two-wheelers and R20 for four-wheelers for an hour and keep increasing thereafter.

Asked about the vehicles jamming the fire brigade’s path, Borade responded that he removes vehicles every time the fire engines have to be moved out. “I have the keys to vehicles and designated workers for it,” he said. However, a fire official said it is not a simple task to get Borade to move the vehicles. “Borade is so arrogant; we have to talk to him sternly. At least we are officials and we can do that. But what about the common people? He bullies them,” he said.

No action taken
Local residents said they had written to the joint commissioner of police (traffic) in May 2012, complaining about the courier vehicles, pick-up vans, water-supplying tankers, FMCG goods delivery trucks and other vehicles being parked haphazardly in the area. However, no action was taken. Many citizens have alleged that the Traffic cops themselves are involved in the racket.

“I think this is a well-organised syndicate. On Saturday, if you come on this street, you will hear how these tempo owners pay Rs 100 to Rs 200 to traffic policemen. That’s why they are not afraid of the law any more; they think the cops are in their pocket,” said Jagdish Kullur, a local resident and social worker.

Cop speak
Responding to the issue of illegal parking at the pay-and-park facility, as well as the allegations of corruption amongst traffic cops, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Milind Bharambe said, “Let me check the issue.

If it is a BMC-owned parking lot, it is the contractor’s responsibility to not allow double and triple-parking. But I will still look into the matter and take corrective measures.” “The fire brigade officials have been calling us in the matter, but no written complaint was made.

I have two men patrolling the area, but I will also request the fire brigade to depute an employee to keep a check,” said A A Shaikh, senior police inspector, Colaba Traffic police. mid-day also attempted to contact Additional Municipal Commissioner Pallavi Darade, but she was not available for comment.

Voices

Subhash Tiwari, local resident
We don’t even have space to park our own vehicles despite being locals. There are tankers, tempos, taxis and cars belonging to outsiders that are parked on the lane outside the fire station. What if there is a medical emergency? Even an ambulance will take time to reach the spot

Vimlaben Kuthia, local resident
The traffic policemen take hafta from these errant tempo and car owners. That’s why no action has ever been taken. I have seen it myself

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