Look one way, and you see swanky malls, upmarket gated colonies and the Metro trains zipping past. Turn around, and dimly-lit chawls, narrow by- lanes and men lying around drunk fill your view.
Stuck in the middle are the Mumbai police.
Last year, 19 crimes were filed every day in the sprawling, crowded eastern suburbs, where the police hunt not just for burglars and murderers, but also battle the challenges that come with a society of people as vast and diverse as the region itself.
What is the problem?
The eastern suburbs house the city’s first Metro and Monorail lines and crucial roads like the Eastern Express Highway, eastern freeway, Sion-Panvel Road and LBS Marg. These roads not only brought this side of town closer to the rest of the city, but also turned the area into a real estate jackpot. Soon, high-rise residential complexes and malls started coming up at every corner. Ideally, this is kind of boom is great news, but the unplanned and haphazard development mean its effects are seen in the police’s complaints register. “People, whose homes were on the spots where flyovers and Metro lines had to be built, have been rehabilitated in areas such as Mankhurd, Govandi and Shivaji Nagar. They were painters, carpenters and masons who had for decades worked in one area, building contacts and catering to a loyal bunch of customers. When they were moved, they lost their livelihood,” said Raj Kumar Sharma, the co-ordinator of the NGO AGNI. Kumar, who was born and brought up in Chembur, was witness to this change. “No one knew them anymore, jobs were hard to come by. Desperate, they took to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and eventually crime.”
Two worlds, many issues
The inequality here is glaring, because of which crime is rising.
Chembur, Ghatkopar, Vikhroli, Bhandup and Mulund, once industrial areas, are now full of multiplexes and posh residential colonies. In Mankhurd, Govandi, Shivaji Nagar and Trombay, the poor continue to jostle for space in chawls and slum colonies. Here, unemployment reigns, and drugs and potli (country-made liquor) have a stranglehold over the people.
To add to the trouble are pockets in Tilak Nagar and Ghatkopar — once the citadel of underworld gangsters Chhota Rajan and Kumar Pillai — where criminals seem emboldened by the area’s past.
The result? Between Mulund and Chembur, 7,208 cases were filed in 2016, the police solved 4,706, or 65%, of them.
The drug challenge
Cheap drugs that are easily available in the vast slums of Govandi, Deonar and Shivaji Nagar are a huge problem, locals and the police told Hindustan Times. The police said the drug problem was directly connected to crimes in the area.
A case in point is the September 2016 stabbing of a 30-year-old man, killed when a bunch of friends smoking marijuana started fighting for the larger share. Tackling the drug problem, said the police, was their Number 1 task.
“We are working on ways to curb drug-related crime, and have sent 80 people to de-addiction centres,” said Manoj Lohia, the additional commissioner of police, east region. Lohia said crime went up slightly in 2016, but the force was cracking down.
Some good news
Compared to the rest of the city, the police in the east were quick to probe, follow and solve cases. In Zone 6 (Chembur, Nehru Nagar,Trombay, RCF, Deonar, Shivaji Nagar, Tilak Nagar, Mankhurd, Chunabhatti and Govandi), 70% cases filed were solved. Zone 7 (Ghatkopar, Pant Nagar, Vikhroli, Parksite, Bhandup,Kanjurmarg, Mulund and Navghar) saw its police solving around 60% of the cases.