An uneasy peace prevailed at the Shankarwadi chawl off the Western Express Highway near Jogeshwari on Thursday following violence in the wee hours after a traffic accident in which a 35-year-old local resident was killed.
Heavy police bandobast was maintained at the spot throughout the day. Violence including stone pelting on cars and shops was triggered after Ramesh Dushankar was run over by a speeding vehicle near the traffic signal on the high way late on Wednesday night. Traffic came to a halt on the highway for over two hours. The protestors were demanding that construction work on a subway in the vicinity be completed.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Meghwadi, Arvind Bhosle told Hindustan Times on Thursday that 13 people had been arrested on charges of rioting and blocking traffic on the busy highway that connects Mumbai and Ahmedabad. He claimed that the police had brought the situation under control and there was no fresh violence reported in the area on Thursday.
The incident occurred at around 9.30 pm on Wednesday night. Dushankar, who works in a private firm at Andheri, was returning home at Shankarwadi. He was crossing the highway at the traffic signal when a speeding vehicle knocked him down because of poor visibility. He was declared dead before he could be admitted to the Cooper Hospital. Following the incident, locals staged an impromptu rasta roko, bringing vehicular traffic to a halt for over an hour.
The protest was more on account of the authorities’ alleged failure to complete the construction of a pedestrian sub-way, work for which started almost two and half years ago. The locals were demanding a written assurance on the immediate opening of the sub-way in order to prevent such mishaps in future.
Following the road block, several companies of police personnel were rushed to the spot from at least three police stations (Andheri, Jogeshwari and Meghwadi) to clear the highway. Police alleged that the angry mob resorted to pelting stones and damaged several vehicles. This prompted a lathi charge.
Locals in this sprawling chawl, with over 25,000 population, however, claimed that the lathi charge was completely unprovoked. “When the police started charging the locals with batons, they started running for cover. Many women and children, who were present on the spot, jumped into the pits below the highway in order to save life,” claimed Sandeep Nandgaonkar, a resident of Lad Chawl at Shankarwadi, adding, “ at least two dozens of them suffered minor to serious injuries in the process.”
The alleged police brutality did not stop there. At around 2 am, additional companies of State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) came searching for the rioters. “They dragged several residents by breaking into their houses and beat them up mercilessly,” alleged Popu Fernandes, a resident. The broken doors in several hutments and damaged vehicles in the chawl tells the tale of the police action.
Residents said that every day thousands of people from both the sides have to cross the busy highway on a regular basis for their routine works. While those on the eastern side of the highway have to cross the highway to go to the nearby Jogeshwari railway station, buy groceries, those on the western side have to cross the busy road to fetch water. Moreover, school children from Shivaji Nagar, Hari Nagar, Gomes Chawl, Apna Ghar railway colony , Pump House (on the eastern side) have to cross the highway since all schools are located on the other side.
“Accidents happen here regularly. Everyday, we leave everything to god until we see our children back home safely,” said Sujata Gaekwad, who runs a dispensary in Shankar Chawls. “Till the sub-way is not opened, the accidents will continue,” she added.
When contacted, Chief Engineer MHADA, SR Nandgirkar, told Hindustan Times that following Wednesday’s incident, works on the subway would be expedited. “The work is almost over and we are planning to complete it in a fortnight’s time after finishing the flooring and lighting. But in the meantime, locals can use it,” Nandgirkar said. He however, dismissed reports that works for the subway had started almost two and half years ago, as alleged by the locals. “Its just one year,” he stated