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Promenade Queen

How citizen activist Roshan Dabhoiwala helped transform one of Mumbai’s most popular seafronts from a stinking dump to a refreshing haven, writes Tasneem Nashrulla.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2009 14:22 IST
Tasneem Nashrulla
Tasneem Nashrulla
Hindustan Times

About ten years ago, Bandra’s Carter Road was a dusty stretch strewn with debris. Today, it is an award-winning road with a spectacular waterfront and manicured gardens, largely because of one 60-year-old grandmother. Roshan Dabhoiwala, member of the Carter Road Residents Association (CRRA), treasurer of the Bandra West Residents Association (BWRA), is by her own admission, “the face of the Carter Road ALM (Advanced Locality Management).”

Evening walkers stop for a chat, security guards salute her, and familiar faces break into a friendly smile when she walks down the promenade. Not surprising given that Dabhoiwala was one of the first few citizen activists at a time when the ALM concept was unheard of.

And all it took was a “blooming garbage bin” opposite her bungalow to get her going. Fed up of the stink, Dabhoiwala joined the CRRA in 1987. “After three years, we finally got the BMC to remove the bin,” she says. The ALM then joined hands with its Pali Hill and Turner Road counterparts to form the BWRA, now the most pro-active agency of change in the suburbs.

But the garbage was the least of Dabhoiwala’s problems. In 1997, the Zhen Don Ship carrying 248 tonnes of oil and sludge washed ashore the Carter Road seafront. To the residents’ consternation, the promoters wanted to make a floatel (floating hotel) out of it. The BWRA filed a PIL, took the case to court and won.

When the Carter Road promenade was inaugurated in 2002, Dabhoiwala’s job really began. “The maintenance part is our responsibility,” she says. This includes a sum of Rs 80,000 a month to hire and fire incompetent security guards, repair the wall damaged by sea erosion and accidents, groom the gardens, keep dustbins, and curb petty thefts, miscreants and rash drivers.

“Everything takes at least two to four years to start,” says Dabhoiwala, blessed with infinite patience. It took two years to install 44 street lights and another two to get permission for a public toilet.

But the most difficult, time-consuming and frustrating task for Dabhoiwala is interacting with the civic authorities. She says she spends a lot of her time dealing with the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) claims to the land on which the promenade was built.

Naturally, Dabhoiwala has had her share of threats from disgruntled quarters. Angry fisherfolk led a morcha to her house because she objected to the illegal temple they had built in the sea. Dabhoiwala shrugs this off with a smile but her family worries for her. Not that they have much to worry about. This grandmother has been hitting the gym twice a week for 30 years, does yoga and walks along the promenade every day.

She needs the strength — to fight her many battles. Her latest concern: “Now Salman Khan is going to move here. There’ll be uncontrollable crowds and traffic when he removes his shirt on the balcony,” she mutters.

She devotes several hours a day to ALM work but insists her three grandchildren are her priority. “People call me a social worker. But I’m only looking after my home and my road,” says Dabhoiwala who’s been living here since she got married 50 years ago. “I got the promenade in dowry,” she smiles.

First Published: Jan 19, 2009 14:20 IST