Mumbai: The BMC-Railways cold war just got a whole lot nastier

Two months after the Railways demolished a civic toilet just three days after it was constructed, the BMC fires its latest salvo: ‘We will rebuild the toilet at the same place, with or without your permission’

The BMC will ‘go’ wherever it wants to, even if it is on Railways land. Two months after the Railways unceremoniously demolished a public toilet in Bandra, saying it was encroaching on their land, the corporation is determined to once again construct the toilet at the same spot.

The toilet, which has been demolished, now awaits reconstruction. Pic/Satej Shinde
The toilet, which has been demolished, now awaits reconstruction. Pic/Satej Shinde

The toilet was being built by the civic body as part of the nationwide Swachh Bharat Mission. The BMC was just halfway through building the new pay-and-use toilet under the Bandra East skywalk, when Western Railway demolished the structure without giving the BMC any prior notification. Miffed, municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta wrote a strongly worded letter to the Railways condemning the act. WR responded that it had not been informed about the construction of the toilet and also stated it would not let the BMC squat on its land.

The toilet being built on March 15The toilet being built on March 15

However, the matter did not end there. The corporation continues to push for the construction of the toilet at the same spot and the H/East ward office informed WR of its intentions in another letter on May 9. The civic body explained that it has been directed to construct a large number of toilets in the city in an attempt to curb defecation in the open – a major sanitation issue that continues to plague the country.

Two months after the toilet was demolished on March 18, the half broken structure was still there yesterday. Pic/Satej Shinde
Two months after the toilet was demolished on March 18, the half broken structure was still there yesterday. Pic/Satej Shinde

The civic body has cited a letter from the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) dated December 27, 2015, which states that it is not mandatory to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the land owner since toilets are a public utility. Therefore, the BMC did not notify the Railways last time. The BMC stated that this time it was notifying the Railways anyway.

This pay-and-use toilet was being constructed under the Bandra East skywalk two months ago
This pay-and-use toilet was being constructed under the Bandra East skywalk two months ago

“In view of above circular and considering urgency of public toilet under SBM, this office has asked M/s Sarang Seva Sanstha to start construction of pay and use toilet on the site,” the BMC letter adds.

BMC speak
Prashant Gaikwad, the assistant municipal commissioner of H/East ward, told mid-day that WR had responded to their letter just yesterday, objecting to the toilet on the grounds that it would leave little space for pedestrians. “We have started demolishing the broken portions of the earlier toilet. I have been told that WR has responded, citing the issue of passenger inconvenience. But most passengers from the area use the skywalk. Besides, we are leaving a 2-foot space for pedestrians. We will now convey this to them in writing. Let us see what they say,” he said. He added that the toilet will be constructed in the space between two pillars of the skywalk and, hence, will not inconvenience passengers. However, the final decision will be taken by the BMC chief, said Gaikwad.

Greater good
This war between the BMC and Railways has raised one question: which is the greater need, to have a toilet in the busy station area or an unimpeded access route to the station.

BMC’s letter states that the area is densely populated and the quantum of floating population there is large. Hence, people are facing inconvenience due to lack of a toilet facility there.

However, WR’s general manager, G Agarwal pointed out that the toilet was blocking the route to the station and was causing inconvenience to pedestrians.

Who owns the land?
The BMC’s May 9 letter to the Railways states: “It may be mentioned here that the said land and footpath, where the pay and use toilet is proposed, is repaired and maintained by the MCGM. The road has been constructed by MCGM. Railway has not submitted any document showing that the land belongs to it.”

WR’s response
mid-day was informed that WR responded to the BMC’s May 9 letter just yesterday. It raised a couple of points: Toilet would block pedestrian route to station.

Contrary to BMC’s claim, Swachh Bharat Mission’s letter is not clear about the requirement of an NOC from the land owner.

WR general manager, G Agarwal, told mid-day, “A lot of passengers use this road to access the railway station. The toilet block will obstruct their movement. Let me take a look at the letter sent by BMC. Also, I will have to study the SBM letter; only then will we take a decision.” However, the WR manager refused to comment when asked for proof that Railways owned the plot.

3,500
No of toilet seats the BMC aims to build under Swachh Bharat Mission by 2016

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