Maintaining peace and quiet for King Khan seems to be more of a priority for the Bandra police than ensuring an easy pilgrimage for devotees thronging Mount Mary Church for the ongoing Bandra fair.
The flood of negative attention that came their way last year seems to have done nothing to change the Bandra police’s determination to guard Shah Rukh Khan’s palatial residence Mannat - even at the cost of the convenience of thousands. But the residents are not taking it lying down this time - fed up with the police’s apathy towards their convenience, a residents’ association has planned a huge protest on Saturday outside the church.
MiD DAY had carried a series of reports last year on how the most convenient route in Bandra to the church - Cement Road - had been closed off to pilgrims, as it happens to be flanked by Mannat on the right side. Residents claim that before Mannat materialised, pilgrims using bus route 211 would get dropped at the BMC bus stop at the Bandstand end of Cement Road, and walk up the sloping road to the church.
The special treatment was doled out with the intention preventing fans from ‘disturbing’ the actor (‘Cops barricade road to Bandra Fair so that SRK is not disturbed’ September 7, 2012). In the wake of MiD DAY’s sustained coverage, the road was partially opened to pilgrims, with the promise that the path would be made fully accessible from 2013. A year later, the barricades are back at the spot, and pilgrims yet again have to go out of their way, quite literally, for King Khan.
Cops claim that barricading Cement Road, which connects Mount Mary Road with Bandstand, is part of their traffic management plan for the fair. They have repeatedly offered the justification that the road, if kept open, could pose a security risk, and cause a law and order situation owing to the problems owing to the presence of the high-profile resident. Local residents, organisations and even the fair organisers have sent letters to the Bandra police and the BMC, pleading that the road be made accessible, as the church is a short five-minute-walk away from it. Keeping it open would facilitate ingress and egress from the church, they plead.
Founder member of Catholic Residents Organisation for Social Service (CROSS), John Fernandes said, “With the pressure put on them by the media, all the senior cops promised us that the road will be used for entry or exit from this year. The police have not kept their promise. To add to that, heavy police bandobast has been organised close to the barricades. It is very disappointing to see the cops acting this way.”
He added, “We obeyed the cops and respected their decision last year. Now we have lost hope in the police and the judiciary.” According to residents, Cement Road is one of the oldest existing roads in Bandra. Earlier, pilgrims coming from places as far as Vasai and Virar for the fair used Cement Road to reach the church earlier.
Not just the pilgrims and residents, several stall owners who would sell candles and other articles on the sloping stretch have been robbed of income by the barricades. The church authorities too have submitted a letter to the authorities declaring that they have no objections to the road being thrown open - in fact, they have encouraged it.
Judith Monteiro, a member of the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) said, “We have received mixed versions about barricades on Cement Road. We are getting our facts right first. As this is the traffic department’s responsibility, we have already had a word with DCP Dighavkar. He assured us that he would help sort out the issue. He was the previous DCP of Bandra, and is aware of the promises he made last year. We look forward to the police department keeping its promise and helping devotees have a feast devoid of any difficulties.”
Locals plan to stage a massive demonstration at Cement Road tomorrow. The demonstration will be supported by organisations like Watchdog Foundation, Wake up Bandra, CROSS, Mobia Gaothan Panchayat, Perry Cross Road Resident’s Association, Save Our Land [SOUL], and thousands of devotees. “We have garnered the support of all the Catholic organisations in the city.
The pilgrims too have come forward to extend their support. We have given the cops and BMC a whole year, and yet the issue has not been resolved. On Saturday, we will carry a demonstration and protest at the Mount Mary Church in Bandra,” said Anil Joseph, president of Perry Cross Road Association.
A senior level officer from Bandra police station said, on condition of anonymity, “Security to SRK is one of the aspects, but the road is barricaded also for the convenience and safety of pilgrims. The road has a great slope and gets very narrow on the upper side. Thousands of people come to the fair, and the incline could give rise to a stampede-like situation. It has nothing to do with the presence of the celebrity. In fact, if there is a pregnant or senior citizen, we allow them to pass by the barricades into the road, but don’t allow everyone.”
I was born here. We have been using the Cement Road since then. It is only after Shah Rukh came here that the road was barricaded. I am suffering heavy losses every year due to this. - Michael D’Souza, owner of a stall on Cement Road
Just 15 days back we were assured that pilgrims could use the road, and now it is barricaded. The fair is conducted in a very disciplined manner. - George Miranda, resident
A bus stop was made by BMC at the Bandstand end of the Cement Road to allow pilgrims to alight and go up to the church. This was before Shah Rukh came to live here. The cement stairs were specially made to ease the climb, leading to the church entrance. The road was the church’s property that the BMC had acquired. Now, the number of people visiting the fair has dropped, as senior citizens find the climb along Kane Road and Mount Mary Road tough. As a result, the fair is being killed. - Anil Joseph, president of Perry Cross Road Association