Until a year ago, the mill compound adjoining the Mahalaxmi railway station, was conspicuous perhaps only for its green expanse, surrounded by central Mumbai’s monstrosities.
Since August 22, 2013, however, Shakti Mills, unfortunately, has almost been synonymous with the decline of Mumbai as a ‘safe’ city for women.
The gangrape of a photojournalist in the derelict mill compound sparked public outrage, set the ball rolling for the prompt arrest of the accused, a fast-tracked trial, invocation of the harshest rape laws and led to the guilty being awarded death sentence.
At the same time, the 25,067 sq m property in the heart of Mumbai, perhaps stayed out of the grip of land sharks because it has been in the custody of the official liquidator of the Bombay High Court. Under the official liquidator’s care since its winding-up in 1981, the property, however, was in urgent need of a revamp.
According to locals, its porous compound had become a den for nefarious activities and shelter for urchins and drug addicts in the locality.
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Two weeks after the incident that shocked the country, the Bombay High Court Thursday asked the official liquidator to rope in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), railway and police authorities to take steps to safeguard the property from encroachments and undesirable elements. The court asked the liquidator to secure the property by fencing it, removing bushes and shrubs covering parts of the property, install halogen lamps and make the property visible to areas surrounding the decrepit mill at the earliest.
The state public works department was appointed as the nodal agency to transform the property into a manned, guarded and fenced premises, inaccessible to trespassers. The court had ordered the compound to be fixed in three phases. While the electrification of the compound, the third phase, is still underway, the first two phases — removal of shurbbery and barbed wire fencing — have been completed.
“The work for the third phase has started but it may take a couple of months to be completed,” said assistant official liquidator Rupa Sutar.
The PWD had informed the court that the total estimated cost for clearing and securing the compound in Mahalaxmi would be Rs 1.58 crore. The court was told that a corpus of Rs 1.5 crore was available with the official liquidator after paying off the dues of the erstwhile synthetic yarn mill, owned by the Podar family.
The official liquidator has so far paid Rs 17 lakh for phase one. The PWD Executive Engineer, Central Mumbai, in a letter dated May 30, wrote to the official liquidator stating that the work of “construction of the compound, entrance sliding gate, wire fencing closing arches, electric cabin, watch tower and security cabin” have been approved. It stated that the work was allotted to M/s Vijay Construction company through negotiation basis and the work of Phase two “is complete in all respects and bill of Rs 15.41 lakh is
The official liquidator visited the premises last on July 21. In his report, he stated that the gate to the premises is locked from inside, manned by guards and the premises are secured.
Shree Shakti Mills had gone under liquidation in 1978 when Mahindra Ugine Steel Company filed a petition in the High Court claiming dues. The court ordered the winding up of the firm on January 21, 1981. The dues of the creditors have been settled, but the fate of the property has not been decided yet.
The contributors of the company are seeking a permanent stay on its winding up and the implementation of the a revival scheme, under the Companies Act, to restart part of the activities of the erswhile mill.