Experts blame the narrow streets and haphazardly parked vehicles for compounding the fire disaster on Saturday; they demand that steps be taken to control the burgeoning number of vehicles in the city
While it is common knowledge that the increasing number of vehicles poses a major challenge for Mumbai with its limited space, the events on Saturday can now leave no doubt that vehicular congestion is an immediate threat that needs to be dealt with to prevent a disaster similar to the fire at Kalbadevi.
Narrow escape: Fire fighters douse the fire at Gokul Niwas on Saturday. Hardly 3 metres wide, the roads were blocked with vehicles parked haphazardly, leaving little space for the fire brigade. PIC/BIPIN KOKATE
The constricted roads in the area were choked with haphazardly parked vehicles, forming a major roadblock for the fire brigade in a time of emergency. With the number of vehicles in Mumbai surpassing 25 lakh, this is a warning sign that the city’s vehicular congestion must be controlled, said experts.
Recipe for disaster
The fire started around 4 pm on the ground floor of the four-storey building, and the fire engines were dispatched as soon as the fire brigade was informed. However, they were greeted by the narrow, congested roads in Kalbadevi — hardly 3 metres wide, these roads were blocked with vehicles parked haphazardly, leaving little space for the huge brigade of fire engines. According to the control room, the fire engines reached the spot in 15 minutes, but locals claim around half an hour had passed before the fire fighters had arrived. By then, the fire had begun spreading to the other floors of the building.
“In such a crowded locality, there shouldn’t be any street parking, and the offenders should be heavily charged. A proper perspective needs to be given to this issue while planning transportation in future as well,” said S Mahajan, transport and urban planner at the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit (MTSU).
According to fire officials, this is a common problem, especially in the island city where there are a lot of old buildings. Kalbadevi and neighbouring areas like Bhuleshwar and Chira Bazaar have buildings cramped together in tight spaces, with gaps smaller than the minimum 6-metre space advised by experts.
The situation is hardly surprising, however, with the number of vehicles in Mumbai now surpassing 25 lakh, considerably higher than the 20 lakh vehicles from just a couple of years ago. The number of private cars and two-wheelers have both seen a drastic rise with 7.71 lakh cars and 14.3 lakh motorcycles and scooters on the road currently.
In south Mumbai itself, over 7.30 lakh vehicles are registered at the Tardeo RTO (as of March 31), compared to 6.82 lakh in March 2014. “The growing number of vehicles and the need for more parking space is a big challenge for the administration in Mumbai,” said Swadheen Kshatriya, chief secretary, Maharashtra government.
The government might admit it is challenge, but the authorities are yet to take concrete steps to deal with it. Ideas to help tackle the problem have been floated in the past, but have been left largely ignored. For instance, a suggestion was made to cap the registration of private vehicles – an idea adopted by cities like Singapore, Shanghai and London, which have either stopped new registrations or apply heavy congestion tax.
Even the proposal for an even-odd parking system has been gathering dust. Some experts have also called for a transportation study to analyse just how many vehicles the city can support, while others have emphasised on the need for better public transport, which will automatically reduce the need for private vehicles.
“In south Mumbai, the roads are quite narrow and vehicles are parked on both sides even on one-way roads. In times of emergencies, fire engines and ambulances find it difficult to enter. This incident should open the eyes of authorities and parking on roads should be curbed,” said AV Shenoy, a member of the Mumbai Transport Forum.
Vehicular congestion in the city has been growing exponentially, with more than eight times the number vehicles today than the Rs 80s.
Until 1980: Less than 3 lakh vehicles
2005: 12.94 lakh
2015: 25.02 lakh
(As of March 31)
Tardeo RTO: 7.57 lakh vehicles registered
Andheri RTO: 11.71 lakh vehicles
Wadala RTO: 5.73 lakh vehicles