Fate of CSMT subway shopkeepers back in Mumbai civil court's hands
After shop owners approach HC, it grants stay, asks city civil court to hear applicants' argument and complete proceedings by June 15
While taking the shops in the CSMT subway on lease back in 2001, most of the shopkeepers who currently run their business there, had no idea that 14 years down the line the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) would change its mind and decide to get the premises vacated in a bid to decongest the space. Now, the owners of more than 46 shops and their staff members stare at nothing but a state of joblessness and sense a fear of losing their livelihoods.
Legal battle on
The civic body had leased out the shops in the subway based on an agreement, which clearly states that after the first 10 years, the individual agreements and rent would be revised every five years. All the shopkeepers had paid a royalty of around Rs 12-15 lakh each. In July 2015, municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta decided to not renew the agreements, as they wanted to decongest the subway to ease movement of people.
After the BMC issued notices asking the shopkeepers to vacate the premises in June 2016, the owners approached the city civil court, which directed the civic body to follow the due process by giving them a hearing.
After the hearings the BMC issued a second notice in March this year asking them to vacate the shops. Appealing against the notice, the shopkeepers approached the city civil court in April and sought a stay order but weren't granted any leave.
Finally, they approached the Bombay High Court and argued that the city civil court had not heard their side of the argument before taking the decision. In an order passed on April 25, the HC granted the shopkeepers a stay and directed that the city civil court should conclude the matter before June 15.
Shopkeepers not convinced
Speaking to mid-day about the reasons cited by the BMC for clearing the subway, Pravin Saiya, who owns two shops there stated, "BMC's claim that the subway is used by 30-35 lakh people daily is an exaggerated figure. We have noticed over the past two decades that the crowd at the subway has gone down after offices opened up in other areas like BKC. Central Railway's survey shows that the passenger count at CSMT is 6.36 lakh, and only a part of it uses the subway."
Haresh Nagda, another shopkeeper said, "The shops were constructed along with the subway and are not affecting the movement of people in any way. Even if we vacate the shops, the BMC cannot widen the subway."
Amol Kasle, who owns a snacks shop, said, "Currently, around 600 customers visit my shop daily. If I move to another location, the number of customers will drop and my business will be affected." Just like him, 25-year-old Jagdish Singh Chandawar depends on his current job to sustain his entire family. Chandawar has been selling dress materials at Nagda's shop for the past eight years since he moved to Mumbai from Rajasthan.
"I am the only breadwinner of my family. These days most people buy clothes online and it isn't easy to find a job in shops," he said. "We have been generating R1.5 crore revenue for the BMC every year in the form of rent and property tax. So we don't understand why they want to kick us out," added Nagda.
'It's not safe'
Pointing out that congestion in the subways was not the only reason for closing down the shops, a civic official said, "The subways have been designed for pedestrians only. They are enclosed spaces, and in case a fire breaks out, the materials inside the shops will aggravate the situation."
He added that after the shops are vacated, they would construct a wall to seal them set up information kiosks and video displays on it. Officials from the market department said that the final notices had been sent to the shop owners at CSMT and Churchgate as well.
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