'The ground has shifted beneath our feet'

It was ire and fire at a Monday, (December 2) evening meeting when residents from Dadar, Matunga, Shivaji Park and the neighbouring stretch met at King George School, D Block at Hindu Colony Dadar (E). The agenda was to discuss about the ‘heritage precinct declared in Hindu Colony, Five Gardens, Wadala and Matunga, which has stopped the redevelopment of old, dilapidated buildings which is a nightmare for tenants.’

B Mungekar speaks as the panellists on the dais look on from (l) B Bhawanji, K Kolambkar and 88-year-old Prabhakar Pansare, Hindu Colony resident. Pics/Amit Jadhav

The venue saw older residents and a smattering of younger people, some of them talking nostalgically about the past, contemplating a tense present and debating an uncertain future. The residents were against the area coming under the heritage list, as this would mean no redevelopment for most buildings and repairs too, they said would be difficult because they could be done only after a runaround getting various permissions from the heritage committee.

A building at Hindu Colony, Dadar. Picture used for Representational purposes

The meeting began by 6.10 pm, with opening speaker Babubhai Bhawanji, president, South Central Mumbai District Congress Committee encapsulating the mood of the residents by saying that the proposal had the residents, “very worried. It is like a Damocles sword hanging over our heads,” said Bhawanji. “Many buildings within this area are about 70-80 years old and can fall at any time. Rainwater seeps into homes because of cracks in walls and ceilings and there have been cases where people living here have been grievously injured because balconies have fallen.”

Retired teacher Shanti lets it fly

Bhawanji also claimed that older residents who may be suffering from knee pain and have been advised against climbing stairs by doctors, “will be virtually trapped in their homes because redevelopment will be stopped and there are no lifts in these old buildings. There are also two-three families who live in a one room tenement in chawl-like accommodation here, their dream of having a home of their own will die if this comes under the heritage list.” Bhawanji appealed to representatives Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar (MP) and Kalidas Kolambkar (MLA) who were present at the meeting to approach the Govt, and “resolve” the issue.

The hall fills up with residents eager to voice their concerns

After Bhawanji’s impassioned beginning that got the residents nodding “yes, yes” to most of what he was saying, Matunga resident Rakshit Pasad, took the mike and clarified that most buildings within the area fall under Heritage Grade II and Heritage Grade III categories. In the former, redevelopment is not allowed, though repairs are allowed after necessary permission. In Grade III structures, redevelopment is allowed, “but buildings will be allowed to go till seven floors only. In today’s times, we see buildings reserving three to four floors for parking, so how are all the tenants to be accommodated within seven floors?

Laughter club members at Five Gardens, Matunga during a morning session. Pic/ Suresh K.K

The ground has shifted beneath our feet, at the prospect of our buildings coming in the heritage list,” said Rakshit with a touch of the dramatic. Rakshit added that, “we now live in constant fear that a portion of dilapidated buildings may collapse, cars which were a luxury earlier, now, are a necessity and so there is a parking crunch everywhere. The landlords are finding it difficult to maintain buildings on current rents. With no redevelopment, a tenant’s dream of getting an ownership home is dust.”

The Shivaji Park maidan, ringed by residential buildings. Pic/Atul Kamble

Rakshit then went to the genesis of the problem saying, “How did this bomb explode on us? Apparently, a bunch of first year students at an arts college were given an assignment to make a heritage list in the city. This list was then simply taken by the authorities as a proposed heritage list. This list has been made with no application of mind, lack of expertise and nobody has visited these sites to even see what condition these buildings are in.”

Rakshit’s words were followed by murmurs of agreement and hoots of derisive laughter were heard when he stated, “the Heritage Committee comprises 15 members. We hear there were four members when this list was drawn up, so where is the quorum?” In the end, he stated that, though the alarm bells had started ringing, “This is a proposed list and has not yet been implemented.”

Those who were impatient to have their say had started stirring uncomfortably in their seats by now. The mike was passed around to the residents. A member of the audience, Sanjeev K, touched a chord when he stated, “Heritage means buildings of historical importance, they have ties to history. I do not understand what ties most of these old, residential buildings have to history? There are people who have been living here since more than 50 years, if their building collapses where do they go? This is injustice.”

Himanshu N from Matunga made a case for redevelopment when he stated, “Like a person, every building too has a life, a shelf life, repairs are like an injection, they may cure the problem temporarily but it may not heal fully. We all need to understand what a serious problem this is,” he stated darkly. Fiery Shanti, (one caught the first name only, because of the decibel level in the hall) a Dadar resident, began by saying she had written about the ‘heritage tag’ and tried to get her piece accepted by a morning newspaper. “It was not published because maybe it was not sensational enough,” she said sarcastically to laughter from the listeners. 

She stated that her own building at Dadar, “was virtually on the verge of collapse, a peepul tree has practically grown into my loft. I cannot see how 15 members of a committee can decide the fate of millions,” she said to rapturous applause. This retired teacher thundered, “We are not a bunch of fools and why are we denied the chance of a better life?” Another resident Manohar S stated succinctly, “Development is the business of the people here, not the business of the people in ivory towers.”

Finally, K Kolambkar took the mike stating that most of the buildings in the area do not fall under the heritage tag and “we must stand with the public,” and “understand their problems and try to address them.” The baton, or in this case the mike, was then passed on to Dr B Mungekar, who stated, “I have taken a round of Hindu Colony with a clutch of residents some time ago and I can state that a majority of buildings here are not fit for occupation. One must understand the lingo of anguish and anger. I am always for the underdog, but let us understand too that we are not here to criticize the government.

This is not the final draft.” Mungekar stressed that he was “not against heritage but a structure must qualify as heritage to make this list.” This former pro Vice Chancellor of Mumbai University added, “We see redevelopment in textile hubs in Mumbai where new buildings go upto 10 floors and beyond, so why only seven floors at Hindu Colony? We cannot have different yardsticks for different people.”

As evening turned into night and the long twilight shadows at the school’s maidan became obliterated by darkness, Mungekar ended on a rousing note: “If people come together to fight injustice, nobody will dare to do them injustice.” The curtains fell on this meet, but it was evident that this residential hub’s conundrum is a microcosm of a pan Mumbai dilemma - striking that delicate and difficult balance between heritage and development.

Deterioration Dangers
In an elaborate dossier made by residents to press their case, they cited their reasons for opposing the heritage tag, Some of these were:
>> The majority of buildings in the area have been constructed prior to 1940. Most of them have completed 70 years and have outlived their structural strength.
>> Most of the buildings are in a highly dilapidated condition and are further deteriorating. 
>> Heavy leakages are visible from the external walls.
>> All sides of the building face heavy leakages during the monsoon.

‘Why the area of Hindu Colony/Parsi Colony/ Five Garden Precincts should not be declared as Heritage’
>> Only a few structures like Dr. Ambedkar’s House ‘Rajgruha’. VJTI, UDCT, Church of Don Bosco School, the Fire Temple, Five Gardens, Khodadad Circle, Ramnarain Ruia College have real heritage value.
>> The majority of buildings of the precincts are cessed buildings and have no archeological features. They do not have any historical or cultural significance.

We are suffering: residents
>> Allergies due to humidity on the walls because of leakage
>> Constant threats of fire, collapse and other mishaps
>> Lack of amenities like lifts and recreation areas. Senior citizens on higher floors find it difficult to climb down or walk up
>> Lack of basics like hygienic toilets as they are compelled to use common toilets
>> Parking problems due to limited open spaces  

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