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Sunday, October 17, 2021

‘Entry into suburbs’ cuts a sorry picture: Shanty towns, bad roads

BMC’s tall claim of an open defecation-free city is shattered by just a drive through the narrow lanes of Jari Mari; roads are a patchwork of loose paver blocks and broken tarmac; footpaths are non-existent

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai |
Updated: December 11, 2020 2:29:38 pm
Thirush Kamini Murugesan celebrates after scoring a century against West Indies during the opening match of the ICC Women's World Cup cricket in Mumbai. (AP)
Exposed water pipelines on LBS Marg. Exposed water pipelines on LBS Marg.

IN THE Development Plan of L Ward as drafted in 1991, city planners called the region an “entry into the suburbs”. That was a euphemism for an area not covered by the meticulous style of pre-Independence city planners, and overlooked for multiple reasons by the suburban realty boom and residents’ active interest in urban governance.

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So it’s no surprise that electoral wards in L Ward still bear their original village names — Ward Number 150 is Tungve village, 151 is Chandivali village, 152 is Mohili village, 153 is Kajupada-Asalpha village, 157 is Hall village, 158 is Kurla village. These villages were here as many as 250 or more years ago.

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The Holy Cross Church in Kurla, for example, celebrated its centenary a few years back, but historical records say missionaries had visited a couple of centuries previously. St Francis Xavier, called the Apostle of the Indes for his proselytisation work in Asia, had made a suggestion for a church in ‘Corlem’, the name the Portuguese rulers used, as far back as the late 1500s when he travelled to Goa and then to Bassein (present-day Vasai).

Incomplete restitution of roads, months after trenching was closed. Incomplete restitution of roads, months after trenching was closed.

Today, nearly 70 per cent of L Ward is occupied by shanty-towns. Of the 15 electoral wards, at least five did not have a single garden or park for children until a couple of years back; the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s tall claim of an open defecation-free city is shattered by just a drive through the narrow lanes of Jari Mari where kids squat on roadsides; and roads are a patchwork of loose paver blocks and broken tarmac while footpaths are virtually non-existent.

With the closure of the area’s industrial majors over the past two decades including Mukand Iron and Steel, Kamani, Swadeshi Mill and Premier Automobiles, L Ward witnessed a sudden real estate spurt topped off by the opening a few years ago of one of the city’s largest malls. Whether in the more upmarket apartment complexes of Chandivali or the new housing societies off LBS Marg, real estate prices over around the Rs 12,000 per square foot mark, but infrastructure has simply not kept up.

“The water crisis was severe in Wards 154 and 156,” says Dilip Lande, a corporator from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena who enjoys widespread support in his own ward (154) as well as in neighbouring areas. He says he championed the cause of a water tank of 4 lakh litres’ capacity, as well as a unique project of supplying borrowed water for non-potable uses.

“This has reduced the demand for potable water, people’s water bills have been cut,” he says. He’s also patron of a local Mandal that maintains an air-conditioned public toilet and a garden with a musical fountain, a covered walking pathway and informative plaques on the state’s flora and fauna.

To be fair, the corporators’ interventions in the daily lives of slum-dwellers has had an impact, but across party lines, politicians and residents agree that the issue of absent traffic management, bad roads, unauthorised eateries and illegal double parking on the arterial LBS Marg remain challenges that no leader has been able to make a real dent in.

After 944 mm of rain in a single day brought Mumbai to a shocked standstill on July 26, 2005, an enquiry committee that specifically studied road works pointed out the complete absence of planning in the road-widening plans for LBS Marg, among other roads. The report cited spot after spot where the stormwater drainage system was not designed and built, and other stretches where work had not been brought to a safe stage before the monsoon. It cited “cables crossing the drains which are not properly laid or supported and left dangling in the waterway, floating material entangled into these lines” as among the reasons for water-logging.

Well over 10 years later, unbelievably, many of these very spots on LBS Marg remain victims of neglect, orange cabling peeking out of the tarmac in places, utilities and the drains never properly segregated, drains still blocked or incomplete. The chronic water-logging spots including the saucer-shaped LBS Marg near Sheetal Cinema and Sunderbaug, which remain traffic and sanitation nightmares every monsoon.

In 2015, eight people including seven students were charred to death in a fire in Kurla’s Kinara Restaurant, a hole in the wall with a mezzanine, an establishment later found to have had several irregularities. Godfrey Pimenta of Watchdog Foundation, which took up cudgels on behalf of the Kirara fire victims’ families, says the knee-jerk reaction following a public outcry is unfortunately not seen through to its logical conclusion.

“Plenty of unauthorised eateries and those using cooking cylinders illegally were surveyed and served notices soon after the Kinara fire. But a year later, the outcry dies down and it’s business as usual,” Pimenta says. All along LBS Marg and especially around the Phoenix Marketcity junction, unauthorised eateries just like Kinara have mushroomed over the past few months.

Later this week, the Lokayukta will hold a hearing on the culpability of municipal and other officials in the Kinara tragedy. Though there were suspensions of civic staffers in the immediate aftermath of the fire, the police investigation excluded any mention of official collusion.

The opening of the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road two years back offered respite from crawling traffic in the interior lanes of the ward, but the Rs 250-crore SCLR has approach roads riddled by potholes.

In the absence of active residents’ groups, long stretches of trenched roads also remain open for weeks. When the trenches are finally closed, cars, two-wheelers and even small tempos are double-parked on the half-reinstated roads, making driving through even the arterial LBS Marg in L Ward a nightmare. Doubtless, L Ward is an entry to the suburbs, one people prefer to pass through, to better governed areas beyond.

After delimitation, one ward has been added to the region, making a total of 16 electoral wards.

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