It’s (almost) that time of year again, when thousands of devout pilgrims wind their way to Bandra from near and far, to pay obeisance to the blessed Mother Mary and seek her blessings.
Cops who have been vested with the responsibility of ensuring the convenient and smooth passage of these thousands, however, seem to be more devoted to maintaining the peace and quiet around the sanctum of the God of Bollywood — superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
The local police has barricaded Cement Road, the exit route from the Mount Mary Basilica on which Khan’s palatial and well-recognised bungalow ‘Mannat’ stands. The special treatment was doled out ostensibly to maintain peace and quiet in the area and prevent nosey fans from disturbing the actor.
Cops claim that barricading Cement Road, which connects Mount Mary Road with Bandstand, is part of their traffic management plan for the fair, repeatedly providing the justification that the road, if kept open, could pose a security risk, and cause a law and order problems owing to the presence of a high-profile resident.
However, local residents, organisations and even the fair organisers have sent letters to the Bandra police and the BMC, pleading that the road be made accessible, as the church is five minutes away from it. Keeping it open would facilitate ingress and egress from the church, they plead.
Expressing concern for the welfare of thousands of pilgrims who throng the basilica in these days of the year, a group of members from different associations had complained to senior police inspector Abhay Shastri of Bandra police station back in August, asking him not to place the barricades at Cement Road this year.
Taking up the crusade for the pilgrims are locals such as Gordon Jacobs, president of the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC), Agnelo Fernandes, head of the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum and Lawrence D’Souza, president of the Catholic Organisation For Social Service (Cross), and its active trustee John Fernandes.
According to members of these organisations, Cement Road is the most convenient route for pilgrims to the basilica. Most of these pilgrims take rides on buses plying on route 211, which drop them right opposite Mannat. From this point, Cement Road is the most easily accessible route to the church.
Jacobs said, “Earlier, Cement Road was widely used by the pilgrims to reach the church. However, for the past few years, officials have been blocking the road during the fair. There are so many families who live off what they earn during the fair.”
He added, “An elevation has also been made on the Cement Road attached to his bungalow, just to park vehicles like his 50 feet long vanity van. This too is causing great inconvenience to the public.”
Local resident John Fernandes said, “We have been living here for the last 50 years. The bungalows of celebrities and influential people affect and inconvenience the residents of Cement Road. The locals used to set up stalls on Cement Road, but with the restrictions placed on pilgrims, they have lost business and consequently their bread and butter.”
The move also goes against the wishes of authorities of the basilica of Our Lady of the Mount.
They had sent a letter to the Bandra police, requesting them to allow the pilgrims to use this road, as it would help them manage movement of the crowds to and fro from the church. Neither did the cops reply to the letter, nor did they hear their pleas.
The fair lasts for a week and is held every year. In early August, the Bombay High Court approved of a detailed plan drafted by the BMC for management of traffic and stalls in the fair.
The group visited additional commissioner of police Vishwas Nangre Patil yesterday, who assured them that he would personally inspect the area today and take a decision.
Confirming the receipt of complaints from the locals, Deputy Commissioner of Police Pratap Dighavkar said, “The complaint has been received and I am personally looking into the matter.”