Mumbai: Can Parsik Tunnel survive all the illegal construction around it
After deteriorating over the years, courtesy slums and encroachment, the structure now faces a threat from two schools built on it illegally
There's a threat to Parsik Tunnel from unexpected quarters — schools. Sharda Hindi School and Kalwa High School, built exactly on the tunnel and operating for many years now, have, in fact, come up illegally on forestland and endanger the tunnel. Started in the 90s, both schools don't have permission from the forest department, and yet, received the same from the zilla parishad (ZP) and Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC).
A tragedy of errors
Forest department officer Dr Jitendra Ramgaokar said, "We did not give permission to either school, operating on forestland with impunity since years." Dr B Pal of Sharda school, however, said, "The structure was already there when we took it on rent from a woman, who identified herself as Lata. We gave her a one-time rent, after which she vanished from the area. The structure is not on our name, but we did get permission from the ZP. We cannot show the documents to anyone as they are confidential."
Sharda school has 1,000 students from Junior KG to Std X. Trustee of Kalwa school Baburam Yadav said, "When we built the school, there were no trees, just stones. It was all barren; how can it be called forestland? We made the land fertile... Also, we have government aid and permissions from TMC and ZP." Run by Yadav family's Hindi Shikshan Vikas Trust, the school has 1,800 students from Junior KG to Std X.
ZP's education department officer, S Bhagwat, didn't even know that Kalwa comes under Thane ZP. After mid-day questioned her, she collected the information and said, "We gave them permission 20 years ago. They must have forged the documents for it. We cannot find the 20-year-old file..." TMC education committee officer Vikas Repale, on the other hand, said, "We gave permission by checking other documents. Land permission and related things are not our responsibility."
The genesis of the problem is that the Mumbra Hill is full of illegal slums and public toilets with poor drainage system, and is a powerful vote bank. The top of the tunnel has been weakened due to the slums, encroachment and garbage dumped by dwellers there, destabilsing the area. CR has been working on the repairs of Parsik Tunnel for the last two years, and the latest tenders to fix the tunnel were of R4 crore. The ongoing repairs include a thick cement layer and building a water duct to divert the flow of water that might accumulate during the monsoon. CR has also called in mining experts for help in fixing the tunnel.
Number of students in Sharda Hindi School
Number of students in Kalwa High School
Built in 1916, the tunnel is presently used by the fast corridor, ferrying local trains to and from CSMT to Kalyan, outstation express trains and goods trains. It is around 10 metres in width and six metres in height. Over the years, its condition deteriorated so much that there were numerous seepages and waterfalls inside the tunnel. This had led to complaints, after which major repairs had been undertaken by the railways by imposing severe speed restrictions. With repairs done and leakages stopped, the railways is now looking at consolidating the tunnel.
Sushila Chauhan, mother of four
'We don't understand legal or illegal, this is our only option. This school's fees are lesser than others' — R400 for English medium and Rs 120 for Hindi medium every month. My husband is an electrician and doesn't earn much'
Nisha Yadav, parent
'We stay just 10 minutes away from the school. Other schools are really far from our house. The area is not safe for children, so this school is convenient for me. I wouldn't be able to send her to school if the distance is more'
Atal Bihari Vajpayee's daughter, granddaughter arrive at Smriti Sthal to collect ashes