Bandra's iconic shopping street reopened last evening, after 17 days, but it's still a wait and watch situation for wary owners
Workers and owners protest at Bandra yesterday. PICS/NIMESH DAVE
The sun blazed down on Linking Road, Bandra (West), yesterday, but stall owners and workers were feeling the heat in more ways than one. For the last 17 days, the street that offers affordable retail therapy had been devoid of footfalls. Owners of nearly 167 stalls are locked in a battle with the BMC over a proposal to shift them from their current location on the pavement and place them a few feet ahead on the road.
Faisal Qureishi and supporters point to the spot where they had proposed the stalls be shifted inside Patwardhan Park
Last afternoon, owners, having covered the shutters of their shops with posters drawing attention to their issue, marched to the office of senior Congress leader and former MP Priya Dutt.
President of Linking Road Stall Owners Welfare Association Faisal Qureishi, speaking for the people, said, "We are not against the beautification of the area, as the BMC calls it. We are willing to shift; all we want from the civic authorities is a guarantee that we will not be uprooted again. Why can't they give this to us in writing?"
Stall owners meet former MP Priya Dutt
Stall owners, many of whom have been at the spot for 40 years now, said they don't see how the shift will help the area. Khan Mohamed Naushad and Kailash Yadav asked, "How would it de-congest the area? Once we are on the road, somebody is sure to tell us to move because we are obstructing traffic."
Banners go up at Linking Road
'Cannot trust them'
It is evident that there is a huge trust deficit with the stall owners demanding that the BMC give them No-Objection Certificates (NOCs) from the traffic department, saying they won't be shunted out of there.
"We do not want verbal assurances. We want written guarantees. The BMC has told us 'first, you shift, then, we will see what happens', but that does not work for us. We want a green light from all concerned beforehand," said Yadav.
Association representatives said they gave a counter-proposal to the BMC. "We proposed that the stalls move two feet behind their original place, taking a sliver of the Patwardhan Park that stands behind. That way, just a small portion of the park will need to be realigned and the pavement will be free. But authorities are unwilling to consider our proposal."
The owners said they have been suffering huge losses since the fight started and shops closed. "We are daily-wage earners. Calculate the loss, please. There are 167 owners; we have at least two staffers in every shop. Then, there are those who supply goods to us. Imagine the families affected. Some have not been able to pay their children's school fees."
Allies jump in
Citing their grievances and finding allies in Khar residents and activists Sumak Mistry and Aftab Siddique, residents and owners stood before Dutt, saying that the BMC first needs to take action on illegalities in malls, like basements being given to stalls, and stop harassing them.
Dutt said, "The authorities need to talk to these owners. You cannot treat people like cattle. The decongestion excuse is rubbish. If you are serious about decongesting the roads, then stop more cars from coming into the city." She added that the whole thing smacked of "dictatorship rather than democracy".
End of story
A few hours later, shop owners decided they are going to reopen their stalls, which they had closed as a mark of protest, and also prevent BMC action.
Late last evening, even as stalls went about their regular business, with owners saying they have been assured of support by many, it was a mix of happiness and trepidation. They want a permanent solution to the fight, not one where they are constantly looking over their shoulder for the BMC van and possible action.
A senior BMC official laughed when told that Priya Dutt had said the action "smacked of dictatorship, not democracy". "I have heard that before," he said, adding, "People must look at the master plan for the area and then come to a conclusion. We have a beautiful plan, including underground parking. Stall owners may claim that they are going to be moved one foot away, they can claim anything. We have a plan made along with the traffic authorities. We are a public body; we are not going to lie.
Those who are unlicensed in that strip are going to be removed; there is no doubt about that. There are licensed shops, but unlicensed ones exist too. We decided to act as we were getting a lot of complaints from pedestrians in the area. We are not against people shopping there, but that does not mean the non-shopper has to be harassed. We will be going as per our master plan."