South Mumbai residents fume over fire engine parked at Priyadarshini Park

Jun 15, 2017, 08:45 IST | Hemal Ashar

Malabar Hill, Nepean Sea Road residents up in arms as fire brigade makes sly move a day before court hearing about fire station at Priyadarshini Park

Civic workers build a temporary shed in the park for the fire engine. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Civic workers build a temporary shed in the park for the fire engine. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

The fire brigade seems to have confused park with parking lot. Why else would a fire engine be sitting bang in the middle of Priyadarshini Park (PDP), that too right on the walking track? Although no fire was reported, the park gate and several tree branches were cut to allow the fire truck to enter, spreading fears of a takeover of the park.

The fire engine was driven through gate number 2 of the park at Nepean Sea Road, and it was stationed defiantly in the middle of the walking track, right next to the kids' play area, opposite the Jal Darshan buildings. The fire department's worker broke the arch over the gate and even hacked several tree branches off to make way for the large truck.

Priyadarshini Park superintendent Shivaji Rao said, "Now, there is a shed being built above the fire engine, to protect it in the monsoon. On Wednesday evening, walkers and joggers were shocked to see the vehicle parked on the jogging track. They simply took a U-turn; they were stupefied. I do not understand why they had to damage our gate and hack trees. This is unbelievable."

Also read - Mumbai: Kandivli locals win back 30,000-sq ft park after 8-year battle

The red engine is stationed defiantly in the middle of the walking track, next to the kid's play area. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
The red engine is stationed defiantly in the middle of the walking track, next to the kid's play area. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

What has shocked the park's caretakers and locals the most is the fact that they were not even informed about the fire engine's arrival beforehand. Susie Shah, general secretary of the Malabar Hill Citizens Forum (MHCF), which has maintained and developed the PDP, is reeling in shock at the fire engine's intrusion. She said, "A portion of the second gate was broken to let the fire engine inside. A couple of tree branches were hacked. We should have at least been informed about this. This is high-handed behaviour and totally uncalled for."

"We all know that the area needs a fire station. There is a plot vacant next to the PDP Park that can be used. You cannot just drive a vehicle into a park, and place it there. This is preposterous and we are going to take it up strongly," she added.

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SoBo residents were further concerned when they saw a makeshift shed being built for the fire engine, sparking fears that the fire department had started its takeover of the precious green space.

The arch over the gate number 2 was removed to make way for the fire engine to enter
The arch over the gate number 2 was removed to make way for the fire engine to enter

'Not a takeover'
Chief Fire Officer PS Rahangdale said there is no cause for alarm, that this was a move for the greater good. Currently, the closest fire station is around 2.2 km away at Nana Chowk, Grant Road — a distance that will take 10 minutes with light traffic or much longer with heavy traffic.

"According to the Development Plan (DP) we have been demarcated 5000m of the Park. We are constructing a temporary structure; we still have to get an entire slew of permissions to create a full-fledged structure for our vehicles."

The proposal to build the fire station will come up in court today, said locals.

Shivaji Rao, park superintendent
Shivaji Rao, park superintendent

When asked why they needed to take a portion of open space, when there are alternatives, Rahangdale countered, "Where are the alternatives, you give me an alternative. There are so many old buildings in the vicinity. They do not have fire exits."

"See what transpired in the Mont Blanc (Kemps Corner) building fire in 2013. See what happened in London yesterday," he said, referring to the blaze in a building in Kensington that has killed at least 12 people.

The fire chief sought to assuage fears about a PDP takeover. "No, we are not taking over the PDP. I am not against parks. Even I want children to have parks. Yet, this is a requirement."

On pointing out that the fire tender cuts off access to the jogging track, Rahangdale said, "This is not against walkers. In fact, even I will walk with them."

Susie Shah, MHCF  gen secretary
Susie Shah, MHCF  gen secretary

Locals to fight back
Mukul Mehra, secretary of the Nepean Sea Road Citizens Forum (NSCF), said the residents are "deeply concerned about this development. Earlier, the NSCF had sent a proposal about how a fire station could be made on a barren piece of land next to the Hanging Gardens. The vehicles from there could easily access Altamount Road, Peddar Road, Teen Batti, etc. Taking up this green space defies logic. Why destroy a part of the park?" he questioned.

Also read - Mumbai: Open spaces will cost BMC Rs 6,000 crore

BA Desai, president of MHCF, said, "On Thursday, there is a petition coming up in court filed by the MHCF against a fire station and a proposed public swimming pool in the park, as well as against the commercialisation of the sports complex."

2.2km Distance to closest fire station at Nana Chowk
5,000m Area demarcated for fire station in the park

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