With voting day in Mumbai for the Lok Sabha elections around the corner, residents of Ambedkar Nagar’s Dhobi Ghat in Cuffe Parade have found an opportune time to press sitting MP and Congress candidate for South Mumbai, Milind Deora, for a favourable resolution to the long-pending dispute of lease renewal of the ghat.
Recently, during his campaign rally in the Ambedkar Nagar slums in Cuffe Parade, the association of washermen, Rajat Consumer Co-operative Society, invited Deora for redress of their issues.
Vijay Kanojia, the society’s president, said, “We have been facing the issue of renewing the lease of the Dhobi Ghat for years now. The revenue minister is demanding a sum of Rs 22.40 crore for renewal of lease for this land. With our income, it is impossible to pool in such a large sum. We have been supporting Congress for years, and we expect the party to help us safeguard our source of livelihood now.”
Kanojia added that if the land was taken away, they would be forced to move back to their villages.
According to the washermen working in Dhobi Ghat, the lease last expired over 40 years ago, after which it has never been renewed. While in 2003, the revenue minister issued a notice to pay Rs 1.5 crore for renewal of the lease, in 2013, the amount was raised to a significant Rs 22.40 crore.
“We all pay a monthly rent of Rs 3,000 for the ghats. Even that amount is difficult to arrange. How can the government expect us to pay such a huge sum?”said Rajendra Kanojia, a washerman working in Dhobi Ghat.
The 3,344 square-metre area, comprising 64 sections for washing clothes, provides employment to over 2,500 washermen. A total of 132 shareholders together handle the working of the ghats.
The association, which has already sent requests to Deora twice, is now hopeful that with the elections coming up, their problems will be heard.
A source from the Congress said the rates applied on Dhobi Ghat were in line with the Cuffe Parade property rates, adding that it remained the only issue to be resolved.
“It is absurd to price the land in Ambedkar Nagar slums as per Cuffe Parade’s property rates. Even if few crores are dropped, the amount continues to remain too high for them to pay,” the source said.
When contacted, Deora told Newsline, “I have already written to the revenue minister and requested them to reconsider the recommendations made on the basis of the ready reckoner. I have been pursing the matter and assured the residents of Cuffe Parade Dhobi Ghat that I back their demand fully and will ensure they get immediate relief.”