OF the city’s 24 administrative wards, B Ward is the only one with an all-Congress representation in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. And all three Congress representatives are in complete agreement about the ward’s most pressing civic issues: water contamination on account of the leak-prone water supply pipelines snaking into British-era buildings right alongside sewage lines, urgent repairs needed to the dilapidated buildings, and the critical lack of open spaces for the ward’s 1.29 lakh residents.
The ward stretches from P D’Mello Road on the east to Abdul Rehman Street on the west, from Shivdas Champsi Road to Lokmanya Tilak Marg.
Spread across 2.66 square kilometres, the ward has a floating population of about 3 lakh people daily, mainly visitors to the densely packed in commercial and market areas, which means it is also one of Mumbai’s most congested.
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Congress corporator Waqarunnisa Ansari says the water pipeline system is very old, laid underground many decades ago. “The sewage pipes run along the water pipelines, leading to frequent cases of water contamination around Zakaria Masjid, Tandel Street and Bhisti Mohalla.” House gullies are also common in B Ward, narrow lanes sometimes barely a couple of feet in width, between two buildings, where residents routinely throw household garbage. Pipelines run through the house gullies too.
According to the BMC’s own data, 8 per cent of drinking water samples in B Ward were found unfit for consumption in 2015-16, the third highest in the city.
Corporator Javed Juneja says the BMC has not shown seriousness about prioritising the water contamination issue. “The pipelines belong to the British era and are very old. Some pipes have rusted and the BMC is not taking up repairs on a larger scale. We have been asking for bunch connections but the BMC says the repairs of pipelines will be taken up along with the repair of house gullies,” he says.
The cleaning of the 900-odd house gullies in B Ward is a long-standing problem. According to Juneja, until a few years ago, heaps of garbage in every house gully was a common sight, but the situation has improved in recent years. “Earlier, BMC officials would be constantly on leave, there were only 75 NGO workers available for the entire ward who would pick up the garbage every Sunday. They were doing the best they could but it wasn’t enough. However, after the last election, we got the BMC to allot additional cleaners for the ward. Door-to-door collection of garbage was also started,” he says.
The door-to-door collection of garbage has seen B Ward actually fare better than other areas. According to BMC data, more than 85 per cent of the 48,684 households and properties in the ward are covered under the scheme.
Dnyanraj Nikam, the third Congress corporator in B Ward, adds that the repair and re-development of numerous dilapidated buildings in the ward is also a critical issue. A common hurdle in redevelopment has been the residents’ fear of vacating their homes, worried that builders with malafide intent could oust them from their properties. As a solution, Juneja suggests that the planning authority offer a surety and build transit camps in the same area. “Most of the buildings in the ward pay a repair cess to MHADA. The people are reluctant to leave for fear of losing their jobs and having to shift children to another school. The BMC should offer a transit camp in a nearby area. If MHADA takes on the redevelopment in partnership with the builder and gives a surety document to the residents, they will move out,” he says.
To tackle the dearth of parking space in the ward, the corporations are pinning their hopes on getting some land from the opening up of Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) lands. “The large plots of land along P D’Mello Road owned by MbPT have been lying vacant as parking rates they charge are too high. The BMC can turn these into a public parking space and pay them the generated revenue,” says Juneja.
Apart from other infrastructural issues, Ansari points out the poor condition of municipal schools in the ward, most of them either Urdu-medium or Marathi-medium. “The municipal schools don’t have a large number of students since most parents now prefer to educate their children in English medium schools. They are thus sending their children to private schools. If the municipal schools are upgraded and made English medium as well, there can be a more affordable option available for the parents,” she says.
Another major issue is the lack of open space — the Development Plan report says the per capita open space in the ward is 0.487 sq m per person, while the norm if 4 sq m.
The existing three electoral wards here have been reduced to two following delimitation, both reserved for women — one for an OBC category candidate and the other for Open category. Nikam and Juneja are both looking to be accommodated in other wards in South Mumbai.