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Fearless Una & Co
'Ward officers may come, and ward officers may go, but encroachments go on forever.' Tennyson's 'Brook' may well have been a precursor to municipal corporations. A ward officer takes charge with the proverbial efficiency of a new broom, listens attentively to citizen complaints, orders department heads to deal ruthlessly with the deadly hug of HIG: hawkers, illegal structures and garbage. A flurry of activity ensues. But cork the bubbly rising in your hopeful breast. HIG has permanent occupancy of city streets, it sings a defiant 'We shall not be moved'. The ward officer's own rousing 'We shall overcome' begins to flag. It's soon back to (non) business as usual courtesy the municipal team's chalta hai attitude/own 'take' of the problem, political interference and the size and strength of HIG itself. Then the bureaucratic musical chairs takes over. Ward officer is transferred; a new one arrives, all swagger and starch. Back to Square One/Vicious Circle.
In 2015, a handful of us from then the only two gated communities of TJ Road, dreamt of using the transformative power of Advanced Locality Management (ALM), known as the Residents Welfare Associations in Delhi. We were mentored by the indefatigable Indrani Malkani of VCan and Seema Redkar, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's own minder of this vital citizens' initiative. We trudged the length of our lane, inventoried every tower, industrial estate, tenement block, shop, bus stop, Hanuman mandir, political shakha, 'seniors/reading/study shelter', makeshift stall and sundry other regular hijackers of the pavement " ours had, of course, disappeared under their combined heist. We presented ourselves at 'F' South ward office, and asked for permission to form an ALM. Granted " after we achieved the prerequisite of garbage segregation, which we managed in our respective Dosti Flamingos and Ashok Gardens. In fact, we went on to composting.
As it turned out, our rule was like that of Shah Alam, 'extending from Delhi to Palam'. Garbage was where our victory began " and ended. The current ward officer is still trying to bring to fruition the changes put in motion by the first one to whom we took our case. We had badgered their intervening counterparts, but they were like Mathew Arnold's 'ineffectual angels'.
Making encroachment-encumbered TJ Road more negotiable is not only a selfish advantage for its newer, suit-boot residents; it would help the shops crammed along one half, or even the licensed hawkers. Moreover, it happens to be the only passage for traffic between the arterial Dock road and Acharya Dhonde Marg which ultimately connects to Parel and then to the South and West. Lumbering trucks, tourist/BEST buses vie with the 'local' cars (and SUVs), tempos unloading stuff for the shops and increasingly two-wheelers, that first rung of aspiration.
Sorting it out is not rocket science nor will it deplete BMC coffers. Let me tell you of one specific and one general project.
A simple answer to the mad-dinning gridlock is a short, branch-off lane grandly named Sitaram Palturam Marai Marg, which leads straight to Dock road. By reading the riot-act to the auto-repair workshops, etc which have spread on to its carriageway, it could serve as an easy exit and entry point for TJ's most congested stretch. Its bottleneck at our end could have been solved by the simple expedient of shifting one panwalla stall.
We suggested this to our first ward officer, who agreed it was illegal, and could even be removed. Five years and almost as many ward bosses later, it is still here. Traffic has multiplied and the bottleneck has become more constricted because a tea-stall and more have come up along it. I'd have mumbled 'a stitch in time', but no one's in any hurry to 'save nine'. Ambulances? Fire brigade? Just pray.
Now to the general project to ease the all-day insanity by tackling the encroachments. Enter, our own 'Hunterwalli' who has taken her whip to the BMC. 'Never-take-a-No' Una Correa continues to make the F South office her default destination, even hosting meetings of the HIG HoDs at her flat. She tells them, "If you do your job and work together instead of passing the buck, we can easily sort out this road for the benefit of all " especially those paying all your taxes but forced to risk life and limb on this road." Her doggedness got the latest ward officer, Mrs Kshirsagar, to don trainers and supervise the (short-lived) removal of hawkers, as well as arrange mini garbage vans to collect their vegetable waste several times a day.
Our 'Fearless Una' even took on a political party which had erected a random, totally disproportionate squat right at the Ashok Gardens gate, creating a full-on nuisance, and had it dismantled by the BMC. But then, usual story. Political muscle was flexed, and it was re-mantled. But with a little help from media friends, we have stopped the hacking of a beautiful tree beside it.
The pandemic overtook everything, including Una's blueprints for beautification, dealing with thoughtless parking, and the reorganisation/relocation of hawkers. The desperate, much-awaited 'Begin Again' is multiplying the old chaos (or maybe we'd just got used to an unhindered road), but Our Lady of Eternal Battle has donned documents again. Mrs C will cross swords with the BMC soon, and the rest of us will keep our fingers crossed.