'Colaba is a Mathura waiting to happen'

Angry residents of the tony suburb feel that illegal hawkers who refuse to vacate Colaba could create a situation like the one in Mathura this week

It would not be far-fetched to state that a few months down the line, you may have a Mathura-like situation in Colaba. This statement comes from Colaba residents where the smell of burning still hangs heavy in the air, after the massive fire in the Metro House building on the Colaba Causeway yesterday.

Hawkers now selling wares near the Adidas store at Colaba Causeway. Pic/Maleeva Rebello
Hawkers now selling wares near the Adidas store at Colaba Causeway. Pic/Maleeva Rebello

The Mathura analogy stems from the current problems in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, which has witnessed a spate of deaths after an encroachment drive was undertaken on Thursday. Violence erupted when the police were trying to evict encroachers and illegal occupants from the Jawahar Bagh area.

Subhash Motwane, president, Clean Colaba Heritage Residents Association, says the Mathura and Colaba parallel is not a stretch. “What was the fundamental clash in Mathura all about? Evicting encroachers from an area. This is symptomatic of the Colaba problem. Illegal hawkers have choked the Causeway strip. This compounds problems, like it did in the Metro fire case, there were challenges for the vehicles to reach the scene and people to move out.”

Motwane says corruption is so high in Colaba, “it is now very difficult to evict illegal hawkers as they are entrenched here.” One sees a common thread, in the response. ‘Illegal hawkers hatao’ is the rallying cry of Ajay Multani too, treasurer, STRANDMARG association, an Area Locality Management (ALM) body, which brings attention to a slew of civic issues in the area and has 16 buildings around the defunct Strand cinema under its umbrella.

It is evident that alarm bells are ringing through the shopping district, tempers are at an all-time high and even the most robust of cooling off operations will be ineffective in this imbroglio. – With inputs from Maleeva Rebello

Battleground shifts
Even as residents mull over the fate of Colaba, the hawkers have moved their business up the road. The stretch along the building up to Leopold restaurant saw illegal hawkers off the road. For many Colaba residents, it was the ideal development. However, the happiness was short-lived, as the hawkers had moved into the bylanes of the road opposite Electric House.

Residents say

Ajay Multani, treasurer, STRANDMARG
I see a steady deterioration in Colaba, from congestion to of course, clogging of roads because of illegal hawkers. A street and a building can take only so much. This fire will be forgotten in a while but it will take us much more to learn our lessons.

Cynthia D’Mello, My Dream Colaba NGO
The fire must give more muscle to our demand of shifting the hawkers in a streamlined, organized manner to another location, with uniform stalls, canopies, make it welcoming and well-arranged for tourists.

Nari Hathiramani, Colaba resident
This (hawkers moving to Electric House) is a welcome change. I hope this continues forever. We have been fighting to get illegal hawkers off our streets for so many years.

Pramod Thakkar, Lives near Sassoon Docks
The hawker versus residents’ battleground has shifted as the fire has caused them to move further down the road. They (residents) shooed the illegal hawkers from near Metro House, but they have come down the road. They have not bothered to check that.

Oreen D’cunha, Lives near Colaba market
Earlier, they would congest the Regal area. Now after the fire, they have been driven from there and have come here. The Colaba market area is chaotic anyway and these illegal hawkers have added to problems. I am dreading the weekend. They will multiply in their numbers and goods.

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