Mumbai: Chowpatty locals fear renovation to house veg restaurant could damage building

Dec 08, 2017, 11:00 IST | Hemal Ashar

Chowpatty View tenants fear alterations made to defunct travel office for conversion into vegetarian restaurant have compromised building safety

The residents of Chowpatty View are breathing uneasy. The cause of this discomfort is a restaurant named La Veggie, which is set to come up in the space that once housed the office of well-known travel company Raj Travels. Residents allege the new construction for the eatery is dangerous and is being done without requisite permissions, but the owner of the space says he has all permits in place and the construction will cause no harm.

Senior residents of Chowpatty View building. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Senior residents of Chowpatty View building. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

The Raj Travels office had shut shop in 2012, after the demise of its owner Lalit Sheth. For a few years after that, the Court Receiver sealed the office in this 80-year-old building. Incidentally, the five-storeyed structure, which has more than 20 tenants, is with the Court Receiver now as well because of a dispute amongst landlords.

Dangerous for building
For a few months now, Vinod Bhagat, son of Kalyan Bhagat, the name synonymous with Mumbai matka, has started work on the premises that he'd given to the late Sheth, and is planning to convert the defunct office space into a restaurant named La Veggie. The residents are dead against this move, claiming that Bhagat does not have permission for the same. They also say that numerous alterations, like building a mezzanine loft, are dangerous for the weak building, which will not be able to take the load of the loft. The building is scheduled to go for repairs under MHADA soon.

Work on at the proposed La Veggie restaurant. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Work on at the proposed La Veggie restaurant. Pic/Suresh Karkera

No permission
Some concerns they raise about Shop #22, which is being renovated are, "water tanks have been placed on the building wall, which make access to the building by firemen impossible. Compounding this, air conditioners have been installed above our electric meters, making it a fire hazard." Most of all though, residents say that the building is "with the Court Receiver and no permission has been granted for opening a restaurant or for any repairs or structural changes. The Court Receiver is in possession of the building and collects rent from everyone. He has not granted any permission for opening a restaurant."

Says Abhay S, a resident, "like all the tenants I am worried about the safety of my building because of collective factors." Sushil J, who runs a fashion store in the building says, "I welcome any commercial establishment, but it must be made according to laws and adhere to all government guidelines." Resident Aparna D says that, "fire safety is my topmost concern," while Meena J, says the chimney of the purported restaurant opens out to her window and there is a possibility of anyone accessing her home through the window, which has a half grill, thus compromising her safety.

Vinod Bhagat
Vinod Bhagat

Letters fly
The tenants association has been proactive with these concerns and written to the BMC and MHADA. Their first letter, dated November 14, to the BMC's D ward requests the civic body, "to take steps against the occupant of shop no 22 (Raj Travels) on the ground floor as he was putting a restaurant without permission of the Court Receiver. It ends saying that the occupant "is carrying out structural repairs and putting water tank and gas pipes which will endanger the building and the occupants." A similar letter was also written to MHADA and the Court Receiver. They also wrote a follow up letter to the BMC on November 27, urging action.

'I have all permissions'
When asked about the residents' allegations, Bhagat tells mid-day, "I do not know which tenant has complained against me. The building is with the Court Receiver, who has no authority to decide these matters; he has to collect rent." Opening a file and showing documents, Bhagat says, "I have all permissions from the BMC with me, including those for the loft." He alleges that, "Residents, one in particular, wanted money from me to allow alterations [the residents deny this strongly]. My outlet is going to be called 'La Veggie'. I have taken every precaution; there is no fire hazard and there will be no water problem. Residents have nothing to worry about. I have a party hall too, but it is not going to seat hundreds… these fears are irrational."

Discount for tenants
"I have also told the tenants that I will give them a discount on the food at my restaurant," explains Bhagat, who also claimed that he was on friendly terms with all of them. "Nobody needs to fear me or be wary of me," he says when told that some residents are fearful of taking him on, "but I will not tolerate any defamation," he says.

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