THE AGGRIEVED residents of South Mumbai and businessmen gathered at the Bombay Presidency Radio Club in Colaba on Saturday to raise concerns against the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT), which is reportedly seeking eviction of the club ahead of its plans to redevelop the 500-hectare land along the city’s eastern seafront.
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The club — a landmark location in South Mumbai — is a tenant of MbPT. But now, the Trust is planning to build a recreational pier, which is also expected to serve as a tourist spot, on the land.
“Why are they after the club? It’s the only recreational centre for members and senior citizens in the area,” said Premal Goragandhi, president of the Radio Club. “We have around 32,000 members who come here for sports and recreation. We have several employees whose livelihood depend on the club,” he added.
According to club president, MbPT chairman Sanjay Bhatia had, in a meeting in November, said that the Trust is planning to take back its land to build a state-of-the-art pier. “MbPT wants to snatch the club, our second home. Japanese experts had come here and had reported that ships cannot be berthed here as it would adversely affect the foundations of nearby buildings along the coast,” said the president.
Many residents of Colaba, who have been MbPT tenants for decades, now fear either eviction or steep market rates for rent and lease renewals. Many residents, who have completed their lease period, have received eviction notices. “I have been paying rent of about 17,000 per month. I have never defaulted and kept all accounts. Now, if the MbPT’s proposal is approved and market rates are implemented, I will have to pay around Rs 4 lakh a month. I cannot pay that much,” said a resident of Colaba.
According to the residents, the MbPT is flouting a 2004 Supreme Court verdict which had asked the Trust to follow a ‘compromise plan’ that did not include charging market rates to existing residents. The court had granted residents a lease from 1994 to 2024 with a yearly four per cent increase in rent. However, the residents claim that the MbPT has submitted a proposal to the Central government that suggests imposing rentals as per Ready Reckoner rates. If approved, the residents would not only have to pay market rates for rent, but also furnish arrears since 2012 worth lakhs of rupees.
Many businesses, which have been MbPT tenants for years, have also faced the axe. “I was evicted out of my business premises in Ballard Estate in May 2015. All I got was a one-hour notice. I lost everything, all my life’s savings and my business went down the drain. MbPT evicted us despite the case pending in the High Court. The next court date is in 2017. I had paid all my arrears and rent to a small cases court. I had been paying rent to the actual lessee, who transferred the property to another party clandestinely. When I went to MbPT to ask who should I pay rent to, they said I had not paid rent for 17 years and evicted me. They threw us out,” said Pervez Cooper, who owned a warehouse business at Nazir building in Ballard Estate.
Another businessman, Pradeep Sureka, stands to lose his steel business in Darukhana due to MbPT’s redevelopment plans. “The Darukhana area houses around 20,000 workers and 10,000 firms and businesses, mostly steel and iron merchants. I have worked there for 65 years and paid all my rent. Now, suddenly MbPT is asking us to leave,” he said.
Residents of Darukhana face a similar predicament. They now need to pay steep rates or face eviction. “I was paying Rs 1,100 as rent at my three-floor housing society in Darukhana. Now they have asked all families in the building to pay around Rs 85 lakhs as arrears and dues since 1985. We even gathered and paid Rs 60 lakhs to our structural owner, who only forwarded Rs 13.25 lakhs to MbPT. They say they will relocate us. But you can’t throw me from Darukhana to Titwala in the name of redevelopment,” said Preeti Shenoy, a resident of Darukhana.
Shiv Sena Member of Parliament from South Mumbai Arvind Sawant was among those present at the club meeting on Saturday and had assured residents and businesses that their grievances would be addressed. “I talked to MbPT chairman Sanjay Bhatia. He has assured me that no more eviction notices will be served to residents in Colaba,” he said.
However, he did add that many residents in Darukhana area have encroached upon MbPT land and will have to be moved. “The redevelopment plan is in place. Darukhana residents and their businesses will be relocated to different places,” he said, adding that he would try his best to protect the premises of the Radio Club and would talk to MbPT about exploring alternate locations for the proposed pier and jetty.