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Residents in crumbling Matunga buildings live in continual fear

The death of a man when his building railing gave way in Matunga recently, casts the spotlight on the danger that many buildings in the area pose to residents and passersby

Diva Nikethan that stands at Babasaheb Ambedkar Road at Matunga was built in 1935. The building has broken balconies, pipes and in the past two years has seen numerous parts of its structure falling.

The balconies at Diva Nikethan are crumbling, so is the building. Pics/Suresh KK
The balconies at Diva Nikethan are crumbling, so is the building. Pics/Suresh KK

Living in fear
For Raju Rawal, the landlord, maintenance of the building has become a troublesome affair especially during the monsoon. With portions of the building crumbling Rawal and the other residents say that they live in continual fear.

“I have purchased tarpaulin with my own money to cover the building terrace so that there is no leakage. Also, I have given permission to residents to put a safety net so that their cars and the children playing below the building do not get hit when parts of the building fall,” adds Rawal.

Vasant Kulkarni points to a cracked pillar in his house. Pic/Emmanual Karbhari
Vasant Kulkarni points to a cracked pillar in his house. Pic/Emmanual Karbhari

Achal Sarawal, resident says, “We cannot afford to buy another house in the city. Choosing to leave our house and live on rent in the area isn't an option for my family as I am the only earning member.

Some of my neighbours have chosen to leave the building as they find it too dangerous, but I am banking on redevelopment. But for the past three years we have only been left waiting and watching. So far nothing has happened.”

The inner structure of Jethwa Niwas is now visibleThe inner structure of Jethwa Niwas is now visible

Senior citizens who live in the building stay indoors during the monsoon. Rawal says, “Slipping and falling in our compound which is often strewn with debris and gets water-logged has frightened many seniors.

Many parents are also afraid of letting their children play below the building. It is difficult to say when something will come crashing down. Our balcony and windows are in a pitiable condition. Redevelopment is the urgent need of the hour; our building is a tragedy just waiting to happen.”

Anil Kulkarni points to the passage ceiling that fell at Homi Villa. Pic/Emmanual Karbhari
Anil Kulkarni points to the passage ceiling that fell at Homi Villa. Pic/Emmanual Karbhari

Of drips and trips
At Jethwa Niwas which was built in 1940, 24 apartments in the building house senior citizens. Krishnakanth P Mehta, 71 and his wife Geeta live on the first floor of the building. Outside their door, the ceiling pillars are exposed as parts of it have fallen.

Inside the Mehta household, their balcony roof is in a bad state with water seeping in every time it rains. Krishnakanth P Mehta says, “There was a huge short circuit in the balcony where we have a fan.

Dilip Samant points to his walls. Pic/Emmanual Karbhari
Dilip Samant points to his walls. Pic/Emmanual Karbhari

The area was on fire; fortunately we keep a fire extinguisher on hand so we were able to put it out. My wife and I live alone in the house; as senior citizens living in this building is causing us major stress. We both suffer from high blood pressure.” The couple spent Rs 20,000 on repairs this May, to ensure that their balcony doesn't give way. Geeta says, “Portions of our building keep falling every day.

Geeta and Krishnakanth P Mehta show their balcony ceiling at Jethwa Niwas, which is in a bad condition
Geeta and Krishnakanth P Mehta show their balcony ceiling at Jethwa Niwas, which is in a bad condition

I am afraid that the building will fall soon; we will not be able to escape due to age. Who will take the responsibility? The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the builders, the developers or the landlord? We are the ones who will lose our lives and property.”

Pointing to a high rise that has come up adjacent to their building Mehta asks, “This building was also in a bad state like ours, but their papers were cleared in 2010 and the work started swiftly and is now completed. Why is our building paperwork stuck?

Chandini Nivas has been evacuated in 2013, but waits to be demolishedChandini Nivas has been evacuated in 2013, but waits to be demolished

Are they waiting for us to die? The leakage was so severe from our neighbour's house that part of our bathroom ceiling collapsed. Our house is in a bad state even though we renovated the interiors four years ago and put a false ceiling to limit the damage, it hasn't helped much.”

Beware, it may crumble
Near Ruia College stands Chandini Nivas which has been waiting to be demolished for more than a year now. The BMC has put up a board near the building that reads, ‘Danger unsafe building’. But very few people pay heed to that as college students sit on the steps below for a chat and smoke.

Rishi Dhawan, a student says, “The building looks sturdy, I don't think it will fall so soon. During the rains, this is a great place to sit with friends and take shelter; the steps here are an ideal place to hang out.”

Agreeing with him, his friend Prasad Thakur says, “No one stops us from sitting here. The board is read by everyone, but unless they keep some security guard, people will keep coming here and spending their free time.”

Dharmesh Chheda, member of the Dadar-Matunga Resident's Association (DMRA) says, “This building poses a huge threat to the lives of people in the area and the college students who spend a lot of time in its vicinity.

If a portion of the building falls or something happens to someone, the BMC will not take responsibility as they claim they have already put up a board. But how much can a board really do?”

Plastic precaution
Near Dadar East circle is an 83-year-old building called Homi Villa Co-Operative Housing Society which houses 12 tenants most of whom are senior citizens. Dilip Samant who lives on the top floor of the building has huge cracks in the walls of his house.

Samant who stays with his wife says, “The columns and beams in my house have given way with portions falling every day. Large chunks of concrete keep falling. These cracks look bad and are dangerous, we stick plastic sheets on them so it looks presentable. Our balcony, kitchen and bedroom all have huge cracks and the pillars are exposed in many places. This building may fall at any time.”

The situation is the same in 74-year-old Vasant Kulkarni’s house where two years ago parts of the ceiling fell. Fortunately, Kulkarni and his wife were not in the room when the incident occurred. Kulkarni says, “We painted our house in April but now three months later with the rains, the paint has come off and the cracks are exposed again.”

Dr Prakash Amonkar, the Chairman of the society says, “Near the staircase, 10 days ago a large portion of the ceiling fell. Thankfully, no one was injured. We spend R 1.5 lakh minimum per family on repairs. We do not want our building coming down and so we do our bit. Our building needs redevelopment urgently, but the papers are still stuck.”

United we stand
The DMRA has been championing the cause of the residents of the area which comprises more than 1000 buildings built before 1947 and are in urgent need of redevelopment. Raxit Pasad, member of the association says, “The rent of these buildings have been frozen at the old British rate; so the landlords find it really difficult to maintain these.

Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) was given responsibility of redevelopment but then the heritage controversy started and only 150 of the 1000 buildings were redeveloped. Now most buildings in the area are in a horrible condition with parts falling and leakage during the monsoon.”

Milind Samaeul, an architect who surveyed many of the buildings in the area says, “The buildings, here are in urgent need of redevelopment. They have passed their life span and are now like a patient on life support. I cannot say which will fall when. The tenants are all living in dangerous conditions. Redevelopment needs to be done as soon as possible.”

Nilesh Kanakia, landlord of Devratna, a building in Matunga says, “My building is in such a bad condition that I myself have been forced to leave and live on rent nearby. I am spending R 60,000 per month on rent. Many people still continue to live in the building as they do not have the finance to get alternative accommodation.

If the building falls, the BMC will not take responsibility but why should I be responsible for the loss of property and lives? I myself admit that the building is dangerous.” Over the past month, the members of the association along with more than 300 tenants from the Dadar-Matunga area have been trying to get their files cleared by the BMC and Maharashtra government.

Anil Kulkarni, another member of the association says, “We have filed a Notice of Motion in the Bombay High Court against the BMC Commissioner and Chief Engineer for contempt of court. In February this year, the High Court said that these buildings are not heritage and the redevelopment files can be processed. But till today, the files are still stuck in red tape.”

Fighting for a cause
At a meeting held by the DMRA on July 14, several city Congress MLAs promised that they will resign as a mark of protest against the state government's failure to resolve the heritage building controversy.

Kalidas Kolambkar, MLA of the Wadala area promised at the meeting, “I spoke to many city Congress MLAs and decided that all of us will resign if the heritage issue is not resolved soon.”

The Congressmen present at the meeting asked residents for time till August 15 to speak to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and BMC Commissioner Sitaram Kunte.

An official from G ward under which the Dadar-Matunga area comes says, “The buildings in Dadar, Matunga are on the heritage list, and these properties cannot be developed unless the heritage committee gives clearance.

The files are currently being processed by the committee. The process will take time as there are many buildings in that area. As soon as the clearance is given the tenders can be floated; this will happen in the next few months.”

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