Shocking! One of Mumbai's costliest skywalks turns into liquor den
One of the city's marquee infrastructure projects costing a cool Rs 43 cr continues to remain in controversy. Challenged for being a waste of public funds when the project was announced, the oval structure supported by 16 cables was finally thrown open to the public on July 23, 2014 after much delay.
Canoodling, boozing, littering: With escalators shut since January, the Nana Chowk skywalk makes way for a temporary bedroom. Pics/Datta Kumbhar and Sameer Markande
Connecting Nana Chowk to Tardeo, Kemps Corner, Lamington Road, Girgaum Chowpatty and Opera House, it houses two escalators that are meant to take commuters up a distance equivalent to close to 100 steps.
These have been defunct since January this year, turning the nooks around the gated escalator into a haven for nuisance makers including vagrants, who gather at night to have a drink.
Garbage litters the defunct escalator
One escalator is located near Ishwardas Mansion, Gamdevi, and its residents allege that they are unable to keep their windows open because they are worried about the sights they may be subjected to.
When mid-day visited the skywalk last Tuesday, the entry to the escalator was locked andan inebriated man had passed out by the gate on the path leading to it. Alcohol bottles, leftover food and cigarette butts lay around him.
A couple makes use of the privacy offered by the skywalk
Tenants of C Wing of the 78-year-old Ishwardas Mansion are the worst affected. Vikram Vakil, a second floor resident, said, "I am a senior citizen and live alone. I had to spend R47,000 to fix grills on my windows since vagrants threw bottles and leftovers into my home. Since the skywalk sits terribly close to our homes, we fear someone may climb in. I now live with my balcony locked and windows shut."
A man uses skywalk for sleeping. Pics/Sameer Markande
His neighbour, Kaushal Sompura has had to replace his air-conditioner more than once because of damage caused by the rubbish that the vagrants throw through gaps in the cutters that separate the skywalk from the buildings around. "Drunkards and drug addicts squabble late into the morning. It's impossible to sleep. I've called the police too but they are back the next day. It's been the same every night since January 27," he said.
Viraj Kale (in striped T-shirt), a resident of Ishwardas Mansion, points out how the escalator closure is creating problems
They also fear that the proximity of the skywalk to the building entrance might hinder escape during a fire. The residents had written a letter to the Gamdevi fire brigade early last week.
S Kadam, a fire officer at Gamdevi fire station, when contacted said, "The fire chief officer is in Deonar. When he returns, we will take required action."
Liquor bottles strewn across the skywalk. Pic/Sameer Markande
"Most of us have stopped going up to our windows or into the balconies. We are virtual prisoners in our own homes. Couples canoodle at dusk and it gets a bit awkward for senior citizens like us," said Kavita Shah, another Ishwardas tenant. Some residents allege they have spotted men who flash, and couples indulging in "heavy petting". They claim that this has got worse since the defunct escalators, a portion of the skywalk (connecting it to the escalator) are not being used.
Residents staying over Nana Chowk skywalk near Grant Road have been complaining about how the closure of the escalator is creating problems. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
A first floor flat has been up for sale for one year but there are no takers, say neighbours, because buyers are put off by the environment. While this reporter, accompanied by a mid-day photographer, were at the scene, Shiv Sena corporator Anil Singh arrived. A heated argument broke out between Singh and the residents, with the latter demanding he take action as their local representative.
The closed skywalk. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Singh said, "The skywalk (its responsibility) has been passed between the MSRDC and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). I will claim responsibility of its maintenance and will try to acquire required permissions for the same in the next 15 days. The escalators, lights and security of the skywalk will all improve soon," he said. But, residents want Singh to push for demolition of the escalators. They said they were ready to go the whole hog, and even approach the Chief Minister if needed.
Not my problem
Meanwhile, it is pass-the-buck between the civic agencies. Devidas Kshirsagar, Additional Municipal Commissioner of D Ward, said, "There was a handover letter from MSRDC that came to the BMC last October. But officially, the handover [of the skywalk's maintenance] has not happened. The ward office is not currently maintaining the skywalk."
SO Kori, Chief Engineer, Bridges, BMC, said, "I need to check the handover status of the skywalk. There was a letter that came in, but I am currently unsure of the details."
Cost of constructing the 585 metre-long skywalk
> The iconic cable-stayed skywalk was meant to be a modern marvel when it was opened to public in July 2014
> Two days after inauguration, both escalators came to a halt, as rats had chewed the wires and flower petals were stuffed into another, forcing people to climb up close to 100 steps
> The problem was rectified but the 9 am-7 pm timing caused inconvenience to commuters travelling beyond those hours
> MSRDC installed view cutters to protect the privacy of residents of buildings nearby. It also sought police help to control the situation.
> Escalators malfunctioned once again this January