Mumbai hawkers, shop owners damage heritage structures, while BMC looks the other way

According to heritage conservationists, most heritage buildings in south Mumbai’s ‘A’ ward are defaced by hawkers who occupy the archways

mumbai Updated: Dec 14, 2017 00:01 IST
Hawkers near CST use nails to hang their goods, damaging heritage walls.(Kunal Patil/HT PHOTO)

Shops and stalls are causing irreparable damage to the arched corridors of prominent heritage structures in Colaba, Fort and other parts of south Mumbai. According to heritage conservationists, most heritage buildings in south Mumbai’s ‘A’ ward are defaced by hawkers who occupy the archways.

Most of the hawkers drill holes in the walls either to hang their goods or to tie up a canopy.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has no mechanism in place to check such defacement of heritage structures. According to Nidhi Choudhari, deputy municipal commissioner (encroachments), “This is not allowed, as it amounts to defacement of public property and damage to heritage structures. But there is no policy at present to protect heritage structures at such a micro level.”

Choudhari said hawkers are allowed to sit in the archways of such buildings if the spot is allotted to them officially, but they cannot touch heritage buildings.

Vikas Dilawari, a heritage conservationist, said, “Heritage structures have degraded in Mumbai, because there isn’t an integrated authority to protect and regulate heritage. While the BMC owns the arcade of a heritage building, the building itself is owned by one or many private persons, so the BMC shies away from taking action. The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) is an advisory body, so its recommendations are powerless.”

However, according to Dilawari, it is not just hawkers who treat heritage structures badly. Several old buildings are now leased out for cafes, restaurants, banks and outlets of popular brands; and this goes unregulated as well. He said, “I can show you graver damage to Mumbai’s heritage. Banks put up signage covering important and beautiful architectural features of buildings.” According to Umesh Nagarkar, deputy municipal architect, signage and advertisements on buildings are the need an upgrade. There is a provision in the development control regulations to keep tab on alterations to heritage structures. Nagarkar said, “That does not include such minor alterations, which can be monitored at the ward level.”

The MHCC drafted regulations to standardise signage in heritage buildings, but the rules were not implemented by the BMC. It is BMC’s responsibility to protect heritage structures, said V Ranganathan, former municipal commissioner.

Stall owners don’t want to be treated like hawkers

Stall owners have asked the Brihamumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to not treat them as hawkers. In a memorandum submitted to the additional municipal commissioner (city) on Wednesday, they demanded they be allowed to retain their licences under the ‘stall’ category.

Stall owners requested that they should be permitted to function under Section 313 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1888. They are miffed as the BMC has been allotting stall permits under Section 313 (A), which applies to hawkers, since January 2017.

The BMC introduced online permits in 2011. From January 2017, it made it mandatory for stall owners to seek licenses online. According to sources, the online approval shows that stall owners have been granted permits under section 313 (A) of the Act. “If we are considered hawkers, the new hawker policy would apply to us. But, we aren’t hawkers. We have our stalls since 1978,” said Faisal Qureshi, chairperson of Linking Road Stall Owner Welfare Association.

Of the 15,000 stalls in the city, 4,120 have been in the business since the British rule, said Qureshi. “We are willing to relocate if the government provides us with a place in its market. But if we are termed hawkers, we will lose our livelihood,” Qureshi feared.

According to the Hawker Policy passed by the state government in 2009, followed by a Supreme Court order in 2007, phone booths, cobblers, milk stalls and other permanent stalls are not included in the category of hawkers. Similarly, the civic body in the policy passed in 2010, also excluded the stall owners from the category of hawkers.

Residents from western suburbs are rallying behind these stall owners. “You cannot take away the livelihood of someone who has been running a business from a particular place for more than five decades. It is a matter of justice,” said Aftab Siddique, a Bandra resident

First Published: Dec 14, 2017 00:00 IST