1.65 lakh squeezed into 1.78 sq km | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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1.65 lakh squeezed into 1.78 sq km

Ramesh Baheti, 30, would not have lost his father and daughter on October 14, 2008, had the fire brigade personnel managed to reach in time to rescue them from a building which had been engulfed in a blaze.

mumbai Updated: Jan 24, 2012 01:12 IST
Sujit Mahamulkar

Ramesh Baheti, 30, would not have lost his father and daughter on October 14, 2008, had the fire brigade personnel managed to reach in time to rescue them from a building which had been engulfed in a blaze.

It took 40 minutes for the fire brigade to reach 259, Johari Mansion on the congested Kalbadevi Road, recalls Ramesh. His father LN Baheti, 55, and daughter Maitri, two, died in the tragic incident, while his wife Monika (24) and a six-month-old son Divyajeet were lucky to escape.

Monika was hospitalised for four months and was on a ventilator for almost a month. Divyajeet had a miraculous escape when his grandfather, LN Baheti, threw him out of a window to a group of young boys from the neighbourhood, who caught the child.

Trying to come to terms with the loss, the Baheti family now stays in a rented house in Bhayander, still waiting for their building to get repaired.

There are many such cases in this congested ward, where services like fire engines and ambulances rarely reach on time during an emergency

C-ward houses 91,991 people per sq km, the highest such ratio for any ward in the city. Apart from the local population, the ward has a daily floating population of more than 7 lakh, because many wholesale markets are located here.

Strangely, though the ward has hundreds of commercial and residential buildings, many of them old and vulnerable to disasters like fire or building collapse, it is the only ward in the city that does not have a fire station.

"We desperately need a fire station. At least 25 incidents of fire are reported in the Kalbadevi area every year, and parts of 5 to 7 buildings have collapsed in monsoon-related incidents every year, which have claimed more than 20 lives till date," said Janak Sanghvi, Bharatiya Janata Party corporator from C-ward.

Sanghvi has been following up the issue with the civic administration for the last four years.

"It was my dream to set up a fire station in the ward during my tenure as corporator. Now, I will continue to work for this in the future," he said.

The ward is spread across 1.78 square km, and has more than 1,800 dilapidated buildings.

It is home to 38 wholesale markets like the diamond market, electronic goods market, jewellery market, gold market, hardware market, umbrella market, stationary market, paper market, medicine market (Dava Bazar), and Mulji Jetha Market, Asia's largest cloth market.

"Though the civic body announced that it has started cleaning house gullies (space between two buildings) from 2008, this is not getting implemented," said Ramesh Kadam, a resident of C-ward.

Another major problem that locals grapple with is traffic congestion. The ward has more than 300 lanes and bylanes, and not a single lane can promise a smooth commute. "Illegal hawkers and unauthorised parking are two major issues, and need to be sorted out on an urgent basis," said Jayesh Pathak, president of the Yarn Association.

The tree-person ratio in this ward is also abysmal -- Marine Lines being the worst offender with just one tree for every 51 people.

Even worse, the ward has very few open spaces, only four gardens in a 1.78 sq km area.

The administrative ward is represented by four corporators.

Of the four, Nationalist Congress Party corporator Gulshan Chauhan has been disqualified after she became a mother for the third time. Another corporator, Vjay Vashirde from the Shiv Sena, has been in jail since March 2009, after he was arrested in an extortion case.

The local people are not happy with the working style of Vishakha Pednekar, another Sena corporator. In August 2009, she was caught by the anti corruption bureau (ACB) or allegedly demanding and accepting a bribe of Rs 25,000 from an interior decorator, and later released on bail.

The state government's cluster development project could be a solution to many of the problems that dog C-ward, but the proposals are stuck in procedural wrangles, while the residents are not willing to trust the developers.

Cluster development is planned simultaneous development of a township (cluster). A major cluster development project at Chira Bazaar is awaiting the final nod from the state government, while

Another one at Bhendi Bazar, which includes about 270 old buildings spread over 18 acres, has been cleared by the state's high powered committee recently.