The fire engine stationed inside Priyadarshini Park. PIC/SURESH KARKERA
The fire engine stationed inside Priyadarshini Park. PIC/SURESH KARKERA

Just so you know, we aren't here by choice, and are just as upset about the move as you are - this is what the firemen deployed along with a fire engine inside the plush Priyadarshini Park in South Mumbai would like to tell the residents. Unhappy with the civic administration's move, the officials have complained of being ill-treated by those who use the park for jogging and walking, adding that they have been forcibly asked to stay put in the garden.

On Thursday, mid-day had reported how residents were fuming over fire department's entry into the garden by stationing a tender in the middle of a walking track, and even hacking a few tree branches and constructing a temporary shed for it.

The firemen said citizens coming for a walk in the park asked them to not sit on the benches in the garden, saying those were not for them. They also said the residents were threatening to drag them to court for entering the park and stationing the vehicle illegally.

Also read: South Mumbai residents fume over fire engine parked at Priyadarshini Park

Five firemen and an assistant station officer have been deployed. An office-bearer of Mumbai Fire Services Union, Devidas Lokhande, said, "The firemen have been forcibly put here; even if it is standby duty, they deserve basic facilities."

"Residents have told us not to sit on the benches; they have even threatened to take us to court, but we have done nothing. Our department has asked us to be here, which is unfair to us," said a fireman stationed in the garden.

The fire engine stationed inside Priyadarshini Park. PIC/SURESH KARKERA
The fire engine stationed inside Priyadarshini Park. PIC/SURESH KARKERA

As per 'plan'
On the other hand, there are fire officials who say they entered the park to tackle emergencies in the periphery of Kemps Corner and Malabar Hill after court dismissed the residents' plea on June 7.

Chief Fire Officer PS Rahangdale said, "We are not going to move the fire tender from there as of now, as there's no specific court order on it. We parked it there because a fire station was reserved in the Development Plan 1991 and also mentioned in the new draft Development Plan 2034."

"The eight-hour standby duties need to be performed; we have made a shed for our employees, and the fire engine has a cabin where they can sit," he added.

Staying with the stay
This is not the first time the civic body has shown interest in the garden; earlier, it had listed irregularities in it and was going to take over the plot. That's when the Malabar Hill Citizens' Forum had moved court. The forum is now content that the Bombay High Court has granted them a stay and is allowing them to continue managing Priyadarshini Park; it hasn't sought any clarity from the court on the fire station issue.
Forum chairman BA Desai said, "The HC has granted us a stay to continue managing the Park until the next hearing on July 27. We are yet to seek clarity on the latest issue, which we will this week."

Resident cries
Residents are very upset with the civic body for disturbing their open space. One of them, Deepa Kothari, said, "This is one of the important green lungs of our area, which needs to be maintained. By parking a fire engine, it is eating into our open space."

Another, Anmol Kashmiri, who has been regularly going there for walks for the last 10 years, said, "It is an illogical and impractical decision taken by whoever is in charge. People who come for walks here are not creating any nuisance, they are only trying to stay healthy; why block the track? If there is a court order, then they could have at least parked it on the side, without inconveniencing people."

"The engine has lit a raging fire in the hearts of all Mumbaikars. Even though the Park is maintained by taxpayers, they alone are the losers. We hope the BMC will show more largesse towards the thousands of people using this park and respect their sentiments for PDP. There are enough alternative spaces shown and suggested to the BMC for stationing the fire engine," said Dr Mona Patel, a resident.

Ashwin Khandwala, another citizen who has been walking in the park since 1986, said, "This is an absolutely wrong step by the civic body; it appears that it is just trying to establish its rights by hook or by crook. There are thousands of people who walk here daily; parking it bang in the middle of the track was unnecessary."