Updated: February 20, 2017 2:48:17 am
A socialist and trade union leader with an unusual first name ruled Bombay’s waterfront in the early 40’s. Almost seven decades later today, while not many remember Placid D’Mello, his name is used by thousands everyday in Mumbai thanks to the famous P D’Mello Road.
P D’Mello Road is a 6-km arterial stretch between the south end of the Eastern Freeway and the north end of the Colaba Causeway. The road has been one of Mumbai’s arterial north-south access routes for several decades now.
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D’Mello, originally from Mangalore, spent years organising dock workers around Bombay’s Ballard Pier. He was a fierce trade union leader — owing to his organisational work and series of strikes, the age-old system of engaging Cargo Handling Shore (CHS) workers of the Port Trust and dock workers came to an end. He was the founder of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Mazdoor (BMCM) Union, BEST workers union, Taximen’s union, Transport and Dock Workers Union and the All India Port and Dock Workers Federation.
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“In those days, the waterfront and the underworld shared a symbiotic relationship and one had to be the toughest of the tough to survive. D’Mello not only survived, he emerged as the chief. The bureaucrats who ran the Bombay Port Trust too were impressed by him. Neither those bureaucrats nor the politicians, it was D’Mello who ruled around the Gateway of India during the 40’s until his death on March 20, 1958,” says S Karmappa (70), former member of the Transport And Dock Workers Union.
D’Mello was also one of the mentors of veteran socialist, trade unionist and former defence minister George Fernandes, when he first came to Mumbai in 1949. He expired on March 20, 1958 due to cardiac arrest while attending a working committee meeting of the federation at Kolkata.
The P D’Mello road has undergone many changes over the years. One of the biggest and most recent changes was around the eastern freeway. “The 17-km signal-free road has made travel from the eastern suburbs to south Mumbai much easier, cutting the time required to go from P D’Mello road to Ghatkopar to about 20 -25 minutes from the earlier around 1.5 hours,” says Nana Kute Patil, president of NGO Buland Chhava.
Starting from May 2007, the BMC razed slums that had been part of the landscape of P D’Mello road. This was the civic body’s first step towards clearing the stretch from the General Post Office (GPO) near the CST to Dockyard road.
“The best part about this exercise was not just that the shanties and unauthorised structures were removed, but the roads were then widened and the footpath made narrower to prevent the rebuilding of shanties,” says Patil. By April 2008, the BMC managed to clear about 2,700 unauthorised structures along the stretch, which helped improve traffic flow between the eastern suburbs and the island city.
Due to D’Mello’s contributions, which are said to have to changed the lives of generations of port and dock workers, the veteran union leader is remembered every year on March 20 — his death anniversary. According to Karmappa, a few old-timers from the union (now retired) even visit his grave in Sewri.
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