A prime property in Mumbai, Colaba is also one of the most visited places in the city. Businessman Haresh Hathiramani who owns a shop in the area and also lives there says, “Colaba has become much more crowded in the last few years. The congestion has gone up, which has affected business. The pride of the city when it comes to tourist attractions is now losing its sheen with beggars on the rise.”
The Gateway of India is symbolic of this city. Pic/Shadab Khan
Resident Ajay Multani says, “The area from the defunct Strand Cinema towards the end of the lane has a lot of problems because of hawkers creating a nuisance. The Colaba Causeway area is in bad shape already, because of the shopping there. But now hawkers are encroaching all footpaths, too.”
Taj Mahal Hotel, steeped in history. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
“The hawkers are instrumental in the deterioration of the area. Robberies are on the rise, women are not safe on the streets and anti-social elements are all over. Colaba was once upon a time, an area of great pride to live in as well as work at. Now it is an unsafe zone,” adds Hathiramani.
Colaba Causeway is a retail therapy favourite. Pic/Emmanual Karbhari
Crystal Valladares, resident and dance instructor in the area says, “Many people are drawn to Colaba and the area is on the tourist map. But hawkers have forced us to walk on the roads and risk accidents.” Travel professional and Colaba resident Subhash Motwani says, “All our pavements have been taken over by hawkers.
There is no space to walk or exercise which is very problematic. Slums also have come up which, in a high-risk zone, is dangerous. The 26/11 attack already saw this area threatened, so the slums and hawkers make me afraid for public safety.”
Rajinder Singh Bedi, another resident, says, “The traffic in the area is a huge problem. People have more cars now and also there are many tourists who come sightseeing and shopping. Fortunately, the traffic police have taken note and are handling the situation very well in the last few months.” Motwani adds, “Two extreme ways of life exist in Colaba. The place in the last few years has moved neither forward nor backward.
While the city has been well planned, this area has seen haphazard development. Our traffic is a case in point. But now things have improved immensely thanks to the efforts of the traffic officials. If this same change is brought about in other areas of Colaba, it can be a haven for locals as well as visitors.”
Agreeing with him Multani says, “There have been a number of steps taken for the betterment of the area, but there are many departments which are not working up to the mark. As a result of these the area which has immense potential hasn’t really managed to reach the level that it ideally should. Parking rules, one ways, etc are not followed and as a result there is major chaos on the Causeway link road.”
Valladares adds, “The social fabric of the area has changed as interaction among neighours has decreased. Many have sold their houses and gone abroad and new businesses have come up. Old faces have passed away and in a way Colaba has lost some of its sheen over the years.”
Residents have started a number of self-help groups that work with the government and other agencies to improve the area. Hathiramani says, “About 160 families in Colaba have come together to form a citizen support group. We are trying to bring change at the grassroots by working together as a community, to bring positive change to our locality.
We help the authorities and police to keep our area safe and improve things.” Even though there are positive things happening in his area, Multani is sceptical as he says, “Colaba in the next few years, will have no space at all. New constructions will come up; quality of living will improve as the area becomes upmarket. I am hoping the drug racket and hawker nuisance ends.”
Motwani says, “I expect to see Colaba become better as a tourist place. If the area is preserved as a heritage space then the sky is the limit.” Valladares adds, “We want a clean Colaba and I am doing my bit to keep the area clean. I also wish to make it green, but planting trees in the concrete space is tough.”
It is evident there are numerous changes, spearheaded by citizens working to bring about a local revolution. At the same time, though, Colaba being a tourist attraction, is seeing beggars and hawkers increasing causing chaos and shrinking space in the prime area.
This is the eighth and final part of our weekly series on different areas in Mumbai, through the lens of the locals