The gloom in the Falkland Road stables is palpable following the Bombay High Court’s ban on plying of Victoria buggies in Mumbai. As the Home Department finalises a comprehensive policy of rehabilitation and compensation, the owners of the Victoria carriages say this rehabilitation plan is untenable. The government resolution (GR) that was issued by the home department last week offers hawking licences plus Rs 1 lakh or Rs 3 lakh in compensation should they choose to not opt for the licence. However, only 91 carriage owners and 130 drivers are eligible for this deal. The GR has also directed for the horses to be given shelter in Mumbai. But it is unclear who will bear the cost of their care — buggy owners have the option to sell their horses or hand them over to animal rights NGOs.
Horse owners claim as many as 800 of them who don’t have licences will now be out of work. The Thakkars from South Mumbai’s Gol deval area are Gujaratis from Kutch. They have licences because they have been in the business for four-five generations. Kiritbhai Thakkar (71) says, “These horses are like our children. We have raised and looked after them for years. The ban has turned our life upside down. No business and no money. Still, we have not stopped caring for our horses. Instead of giving away our horses to animal right activists, I gave eight of my horses to a friend of mine in Uttar Pradesh for free. He will take care of them.”
Thakkar says that he is suffering from a heart ailment and the cost of treatment is as much as Rs 25 lakh. “I have hardly any money for my treatment and these people are offering Rs 3 lakh as one time settlement. Our main business is of supplying horses and carriages for marriages. But with this ban we are not even able to send the carriages for marriages. We used to easily earn Rs 2 lakh to 2.5 lakh a month by running our Victorias and giving our horses for wedding functions. There are only a handful of us who have licences and pay our taxes.”
The Thakkars say they don’t want anything to do with the Maharashtra government’s new rehabilitation proposal. “We have our own offices here. At this age, do they expect us to go and sit on the road with hawking licences? Even if we go for the alternative, how long will the Rs 3 lakh last?” asks Kiritbhai’s brother Subodh Thakkar. The Thakkars say they have already spent Rs 18 lakh on their court case. They have no money left for further litigation but are unwilling to accept the government’s offer, they say.
Kirtibhai Thakkar, his brother Subodh and his nephews in all own 23 Victoria licences and have demanded Rs 15 to 20 lakh for each licence. “Not a single victoria or horse owner pays income tax but our company has been paying income tax since past 70 years and we have receipts to prove this,” added Kirtibhai. Despite the ban, Mutthu Shetty (36) still brings his horse Chingari to Nariman Point daily. Shetty was around 10 years old when he first began helping his mentor B S Jaiswal, with whom he ran a business partnership.
Both Jaiswal and Shetty used to get their Victoria carriages, and provide joy rides on Marine Drive. After the 2015 ban on the horse-drawn buggies, the duo still get carriages post 9 pm. However, people like Shetty and Jaiswal have not only lost their business but will not even get the compensation as they are among those who do not have a licence.
Victorias in Mumbai date back to the 18th Century when Mumbai was Bombay Presidency and the horse carriages were an important public transportation system. As late as 1945, when locomotive lines ended at Mahim or at the edge of the ‘island city’, it was the tongas or buggies that served as taxis for the suburbs. The Bombay Gazette states that in 1945, there were 4,527 horses in the city and 2,166 buggies or carts. Since then time has gnawed away at the numbers. From 1,123 Victorias in 1962, the numbers dwindled rapidly as the Mumbai Police’s traffic department stopped issuing them new licences in 1973.
However, the Victoria owners have now decided to take up the matter in the High Court in a hearing scheduled on July 6, and hope the government considers their demands.