On June 24, 2012, a flat in Simla House Co-operative Housing Society at Nepean Sea Road caught fire. The owners were out of the country but panicky Society residents had an early, smoke-filled morning, as they got out of their beds to the smell of something burning. A thick plume of smoke was emanating from a flat in ‘B’ wing on the first floor.
The neighbours broke down the door and people from other flats, started swarming the corridors. Residents recall, “We called the Nana Chowk fire brigade and they were there very quickly. The fire engine though could not get into the gate of the Simla House complex as there were parked bikes, most of them belonging to the Simla Nagar slum behind, everywhere.
After several futile attempts, the firemen had to abandon the fire engines, which could not get in because of the obstruction outside and drag the hose pipes to the flat. The flat is not very far away from the gate, so it was possible to bring in the pipes from outside. What if it was not possible? We have A B C D and E wings with 246 flats. Think how many people’s lives are at risk,” ask the residents.
Fortunately, nobody suffered burns and even damage to the flat was minimal, in the fire, but the June 24 episode is symbolic of the problems besetting one of the biggest residential complexes in the area. Bikes, some belonging to the people staying at the adjacent slum colony called Simla Nagar, continue to block the access gates of the buildings, making entry and exit a huge challenge. “Just a few days after that fire, we had an medical emergency and similarly the ambulance could not access the building. What are the authorities waiting for? A major disaster to happen?” ask the residents.
A thick file of correspondence to various authorities like the traffic control, MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha, the police dating at least four years and more prove that Simla House residents have been pursuing their cause for a while now. After numerous letters and visits to various higher-ups, residents from four societies all adjacent to each other, have now joined forces to fight against different problems because unity is strength.
These societies, besides Simla House are Godrej Baug, Malabar Apts and Meherina. Representatives have signed a letter in June last year, which was addressed to the then Senior Inspector of Police citing problems like the: ‘fundamental right of way into our Societies has been seriously compromised because of illegal parking.’
Says Godrej Baug’s Jt. Secretary, Neville Velati, “Simla House has a huge problem with their access gates blocked by illegal parkings. Godrej Baug has some unique problems too like numerous gas cylinders meant for the different societies being offloaded right in front of the main gate of Godrej Baug. This is hazardous.”
Ironically, the parking is taking place under the nose (literally speaking) of the Simla House police chowky, which is right at the gates. Residents claim they have been asked to, “hammer out a compromise with the bike owners, the slum dwellers, and sit across a table and talk, but they do not talk to us and do not understand polite communication.”
In a letter dated June 5, 2012, addressed to the Senior Inspector of Police, Malabar Hill, they have stated their concerns saying that: “Our basic and fundamental right of way into our societies has been seriously compromised by these illegal parkings. Moreover, even if our security instructs vehicle owners to park at another location, they simply refuse and threaten our security staff. Further, even goods trucks are parked right in front of the main gates and they refuse to move a few feet away.” The letter ends with a request for action.
The residents also state that there is large-scale verbal harassment that women face, “sexually charged comments and innuendos are common. People loitering outside, many from these slums also abuse each other constantly, the language is so embarrassing for women, they feel so uncomfortable.” Some time ago, the road leading up to these buildings was widened, now a BEST bus (156) also goes right up the hill, but constant parking on both sides, even in no parking zones causes traffic jams and vehicles are forced to crawl at a snail's pace.
Residents actually laugh scornfully when told that they live in one of Mumbai’s poshest areas, for a Nepean Sea Rd address has a certain snob value. “Posh for who?” they ask. A number of letters to traffic authorities in the beginning of last year request that authorities send a owing van at least twice a day and ensure that people honour no parking boards. ‘A traffic officer needs to visit at least twice a day and take away license from offenders even sitting in the vehicle’ the letter states.
There are a slew of similar letters right through these years. The residents have lost heart, with the sheaf of correspondence all neatly filed away simply begging for action. One letter as early as December 2010, had been sent to MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha, stating that residents were unhappy with the installation of benches on the common walls of Meherina, Simla House and immediately after the beat police chowky.
This, the letter states is despite the fact that dozens of two wheelers, owned by Simla Nagar residents, cars and ration lorries are parked just in front of the main gate, making it impossible for Simla House residents cars to move smoothly or freely. The letter actually requests that Lodha visit the site to see first hand the nuisance residents have to face. There are some acknowledgements and some thanks for action taken but these are few and far between. Residents say, "There may be some temporary respite but problems persist. We are just so enervated and frustrated. We also fear is a repeat of the fire incident, where precious time is lost as emergency services seek in vain to access residents through the choked avenue.”
Milind Deora Acknowledges
In a letter dated February 18, 2010, MP Milind Deora had addressed a letter to Sanjay Barve then Jt Commissioner of Police at the Traffic Headquarters in Worli. Deora’s letter stated in brief that he was in receipt of a letter by the Simla House Co- operative Housing Society where residents were distressed at paucity of space on the common approach road leading to traffic chaos. The letter states that to: ‘please look into the matter earnestly and take concrete remedial measures’.
Mangal Prabhat Lodha, MLA, says: I have been in charge of widening the road in the area considerably. I agree there were a few problems with Simla House earlier, about illegal parking and bikes blocking access to the society gates. However, these have been sorted out to a huge extent. Now, residents do have greater access. I have been following up regularly with residents. They can also approach me and I have attended quite a few meetings to address concerns.
A swish address
Nepean Sea Road is an upmarket neighbourhood near Malabar Hill in South Mumbai. The area is named after Sir Evan Nepean, 1st Baronet, a British politician and administrator, and the Governor of Bombay (1812--1819). Nepean Sea Road houses some of the most expensive apartments in Mumbai as well as one the most expensive houses in the world and is adjacent to Malabar Hill which too, is an upmarket residential area in South Mumbai. It has several iconic buildings and city landmarks steeped in history.
It is known for the Walkeshwar Temple which houses the Banganga Tank. The Banganga Tank, itself, attached to the Walkeshwar Temple, is the oldest standing structure in Mumbai. Hindu mythology has it that Lord Rama, on his way to Sri Lanka to rescue his kidnapped wife, Sita, felt thirsty and stopped at the location of the Banganga Tank and shot an arrow into the ground.
A water fountain erupted and Rama quenched his thirst. It is believed that the very same spring still fills the Banganga tank today. A Jain temple dedicated to Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankara, and the Parsi Tower of Silence are two other religious structures in this district. Malabar Hill is the location of the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai, Kamala Nehru Park, and Priyadarshini Park, which is adjacent to the Arabian Sea.
It also has the Raj Bhavan, official residence of the Governor and the bungalow Varsha, official residence of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Houses here are amongst the most expensive in the world. Buses only started serving this area during WWII. The former residence of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan is also present here, but is closed to public due to a dispute.