ON May 9, 2015, a massive fire broke out in the four-storey Gokul Nivas in Kalbadevi. Four senior fire department officials, including Chief Fire Officer Sunil Nesrikar, lost their lives. Today, a pile of debris is all that remains in the space where the 60-year-old building once stood. A year and half later, little has changed in the area near Old Hanuman Lane in Ward 219, long dominated by the BJP. The fire and the shocking loss of lives did not greatly alter the commercial area’s preparedness for disaster. And in Kalbadevi, thickly populated by Gujarati and Marwari traders, politically too, little has changed. Most residents and shop-owners seem ready to pledge their support to the BJP once again.
The Gokul Nivas fire raised grave issues that would be debated in the BMC at length — installation of fire safety equipment in the ageing buildings, traffic congestion caused by double parking on the narrow roads of Kalbadevi, the need for a fire station in C Ward and more. None of those has seen the light of day.
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Forty seven year old Raju Ganatra, who runs a shop selling mosquito nets and is also a resident, says: “All the roads in this area had double parking and the handcarts cause massive traffic congestion and make it impossible for pedestrians to walk. In case there is another fire or even a medical emergency, it is impossible for the ambulance or the fire truck to navigate its way through.”
Ganatra says he doesn’t believe their local BJP corporator, Vina Jain, has been very effective, but he will give the BJP another chance nonetheless. “Other parties such as Congress and SP are too insignificant now,” he says.
Others such as 60-year-old Suryakant Barot and his 57-year-old brother Hasmukh Barot, residents of the area and running a shop selling incense sticks for the past 35 years, share Ganatra’s view. “The Shiv Sena has been in power for two decades and our problems are still the same and the Congress didn’t do much before either. We will thus support the BJP.”
Some want to give the BJP a chance because there is still faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For 64-year-old Mahendra Jain, a cloth merchant and resident of Anantwadi in Kalbadevi, corporators have limited powers anyway. “I like many others had voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and I believe that his government and the state government can bring about some positive changes. I’d like to give the BJP another chance and hope for better performance,” he says.
The support for the BJP is hardly unanimous, with many complaining about the local corporator. When contacted, Jain rubbished claims that she doesn’t visit her ward enough. “Traffic congestion is indeed a problem and vehicles are parked on most of the roads. Even though I have ensured that the vehicles are removed from time to time, they keep coming back. It is also the residents’ duty to bring it to our notice since I cannot stand at one road all day.” She says the shop-owners who complain are themselves the reason for the handcarts being present in large numbers on the New Hanuman Road.
The long-standing infrastructural issues like the lack of proper traffic management, illegal parking and lack of a fire station in the ward has left some aggrieved residents unsure. Kumud Mehta, a 75-year-old resident of a building on Suthar Chawl Street, the lane parallel to Old Hanuman lane, says, “Honestly, I have given up on all the political parties. I have lived in this house for more than 40 years and I haven’t seen any change. The filthy gutters are still there and being a senior citizen, I am scared to walk on the road because of the unruly way in which the hand-pulled carts pass by. I vote only because my son forces me to do so, even if it is for NOTA,” she says.
Shataram Mandavkar, 51, is one of the former residents of the ill-fated Gokul Nivas building who now lives in an alternate accommodation in a MHADA building in Prabhadevi. He says neither the BJP nor the Shiv Sena helped him despite promises after the fire. “It has been nearly two years since the fire and I am yet to receive any compensation for the huge loss worth Rs 15 lakh I incurred. The collector’s office sent a cheque of Rs 20,000 which I returned. All the political parties are cut out of the same cloth and I have no expectations from the next set of corporators,” he says bitterly.
Former BJP corporator from the area, Janak Sanghvi, says he hopes to contest from Ward 221. “Even when I was the sitting corporator before 2012, I had repeatedly stressed on the importance of having a fire station in C ward since so many dilapidated buildings are there. Even though two plots had been suggested including a compound behind the LT Marg police station, no progress has happened on that front and I will continue to take the issue up,” he says.