Hancock Bridge’s solitary crusader | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Hancock Bridge’s solitary crusader

Apr 14, 2024 07:48 AM IST

Kamlakar Shenoy's 10-year battle with BMC to rebuild Hancock Bridge in Mumbai has faced challenges due to lack of support, but recent court directives offer hope.

Mumbai: “Blessings” don’t always go a long way, and Kamlakar Shenoy knows this best.

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HT Image

Shenoy is an angry man today because his has been a nearly 10-year lone battle with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) – the country’s richest civic body – to complete rebuilding south Mumbai’s British era Hancock Bridge, sans any support from residents and political will. His crusade also failed to garner public attention like Andheri’s Gokhale Bridge.

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All the 66-year-old hotelier has managed to elicit from people around him are “blessings”. “I wish the residents of Mazgaon also unite to create awareness on the need of Hancock bridge. Their apathy is shameful,” he said bitterly.

Located close to Sandhurst Road railway station, Hancock Bridge is a connect between the docks of Mazgaon and Dongri. It is surrounded by a congested market place, old buildings and is a vital connect to hospitals and educational institutions in the vicinity.

Since news of its demolition surfaced less than a decade ago, the Mazgaon resident has been on a mission for the completion of one of Mumbai’s first motorable bridges. In 2016, the civic body demolished the bridge that had then turned 136 and was declared dilapidated. It’s reconstruction work began in 2019.

Under the first phase in December 2020 BMC completed constructing the pedestrian part of the bridge and opened it only for them in January 2021. 75 crore was spent in this phase. In August 2022, it was partially opened to motorists. Since then, Shenoy has been pursuing with civic authorities to start phase two of the project, which involves building approach roads for the two additional lanes on the bridge over railway lines.

Last month, the Bombay high court (HC) called for reply affidavits from the BMC and Central Railway (CR) in response to Kamlakar’s 2015 petition, which had highlighted increase in accidents, including fatal ones, involving pedestrians and rail passengers near Sandhurst Road station, because of the absence of a bridge to cross the railway lines.

Kamlakar urged the court to direct the authorities to complete reconstruction of Hancock Bridge and another one constructed in the British era, Carnac Bridge, at the earliest.

“There are 300-odd home owners in buildings close to the bridge who need to be rehabilitated. The bridge cannot be completed until these structures go. Why couldn’t the BMC acquire land for the purpose soon after the bridge’s demolition,” questioned Shenoy, who owns the famous Sadaguru hotel opposite Sandhurst Road railway station.

Shenoy’s single-minded-pursuit stems from community pride. He grew up in Mazgaon (E-Ward), where the family has resided for almost a century. The neighbourhood has a population of approximately 8 lakh. A local garden -- Sitaram Shenoy Udyan -- is named after his ancestor. Like thousands, he has been using the Hancock Bridge frequently to drive to his hotel and other commercial hubs in the area.

Hancock Bridge was first built in 1879 and named after Colonel HF Hancock, who served as member and president of then Bombay Municipal Corporation (presently the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) under British administration. It was reconstructed in 1923.

When the bridge was declared dangerous, Shenoy questioned civic and rail authorities, and sought documents to prove that it was dangerous “but I did not get a suitable response”.

He filed a PIL in HC in 2015 on the demolition of Hancock and Carnac bridges. But before he could get an answer from government agencies, it was demolished in 2016. No one moved a muscle for four years. “There was no word on rebuilding nor acquiring land by speaking to the legal residents of tenements whose buildings were in the way of the approach road for the new bridge. BMC had time to find a solution and open a wider Hancock Bridge; now it has only created a bottleneck as a two-lane road converges into one on each side on this bridge,” he said.

BMC and rail authorities began rebuilding it in 2019, and opened a pedestrian foot-over-bridge two years later, which is next to the motorable two lanes existing now. Two of the four lanes that were opened for vehicular movement in August 2022 forms the arm of the bridge that passes over CR’s main line tracks. The remaining two lanes are yet to materialise due to lack of approach roads below.

On March 6 the court issued directives to BMC and Railways and asked for a comprehensive response on the status of an incomplete Hancock Bridge. The court reinstated Shenoy’s PIL from 2015 that was previously disposed of in 2018.

BMC had then assured HC that funds were allocated for the bridge’s construction, which would be completed under railway supervision. However, six years after the order, the bridge remains incomplete, prompting Shenoy to revive the petition. Shenoy argued that without the court’s intervention, public would face significant civic problems.

The court stated, “Having regard to the fact that pedestrians are yet to be provided with a safe passage for crossing over the railway line, the proceedings of the PIL are revived and restored to its original number.”

The court’s recent order was following Shenoy citing newspaper articles indicating that construction at both bridges remained stalled despite assurances given to HC.

While HC’s recent directive offers a flash of optimism to Shenoy, his lone crusade has over the years involved seeking documents through Right to Information (RTI) Act and filing PILs against the civic and government authorities for the bridge.

“I have not kept any record of legal expenses that have gone into my fight for Hancock Bridge. There are many incidental expenses, for instance taking photocopies, clerical work and travelling to meet relevant people,” said Shenoy. “Fortunately, advocates Pradeep Thorat and Anish Jadhav are fighting this case pro bono.”

His small office space at Sandhurst Road is peppered with books on various statutory laws and rules, all of which he has referenced for his legal battles. This was Shenoy’s second case in public interest. His first, more than a decade ago, was challenging BEST’s decision to recover losses of running buses across Mumbai from south Mumbai residents through electricity bills.

Through this journey, Shenoy also realised how social media goes a long way to amplify citizens’ issues; he learnt to use its tools during Covid-19.

“During the Gokhale Bridge movement, I saw how citizens were making good use of social media sites and apps to raise awareness. This triggered me to use social media for Hancock Bridge,” he said. He has now created WhatsApp groups where he frequently sends messages to create awareness, and uses tools like Facebook, X and Instagram to post pictures and information on any issue on public infrastructure and tags relevant authorities.

He has also set up his own website, where he posts his experience of fighting legal battles, uploads important government resolutions, notifications and circulars on various public amenities.

“People approach me for various issues pertaining public amenities be it incomplete road works, choking drains or issues with power supply. I am more than happy to help them, but I wish they would the time to push the civic body and politicians to complete Hancock bridge,” he said. “Public movement is necessary if citizens desire better standards of living through public infrastructure.”

His fight, meanwhile, is to restore three old British era bridges --- Hancock, Carnac and Reay Road - which are in various stages of reconstruction. BMC remained unresponsive to HT’s calls on the matter.

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