Soon after the collapse of the foot overbridge at CSMT on March 14, Rekha Bhalekar, in-charge of a daycare facility that operates under the bridge for street children, began making frantic calls in the hope that none of the children and youngsters who accessed the centre were at the spot.
She had shut the centre, run by the NGO Support, for the day around 6.30pm and was reaching her home in Badlapur when she heard about the collapse.
“Some of the children and youngsters hang out outside the centre after it shuts. Some sleep on the bridge later at night. So I kept hoping none of them were near the spot during the incident,” said Bhalekar.
She called the staff of a nearby snack corner, also located under the bridge, to check if they had seen any of the children. It later emerged that the children were not among the injured or the dead. However, the centre — which has been functioning from under the bridge for nearly 30 years — has been closed temporarily.
“We will be assessing whether there is any damage to the structure, based on which we will decide a further course of action,” said Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner, Ward-A.
On Monday morning, when the staff opened the centre after a gap of three days, many children lined up outside, hoping to access their regular space. Located in the vicinity of CSMT railway station, the centre’s focus has been to provide an alternative space for those between the ages of 6 and 24 who are addicted to substances. It offers non-formal education, vocational skills, recreational activities such as carrom and ludo, a television set as well as a meal and space to bathe.
On average, the centre is used by around 25 to 30 children and youngsters daily.
“The idea is to have a safe space for them during daytime when they are vulnerable to substance abuse. In the eight hours that they are at the centre, they are kept busy with differnt kinds of activities,” said Vijay Pawar, programme director of NGO Support.
Those at the centre are also provided group or individual counselling and if they consent, are enrolled in a long-term residential rehabilitation process for drug de-addiction. If they are minors, the children are produced before the Child Welfare Committee with a focus on repatriating them to their parents if they have run away from home.
As part of an outreach programme, a four-member team of the NGO’s staff reaches out to children and youngsters in the locality. “If they are into heavy substance abuse, it takes building trust to bring them to the centre. They have been using the space regularly to rest, freshen up, watch TV or just sleep, ensuring that at least for those eight hours, there is no drug abuse,” said social worker Pramila Dalvi.
The staff are hopeful that the centre can begin functioning again after the safety assessment.
“The apprehension is that with no place to go during the day, the substance abuse may spiral back again for some of those who come regularly to the centre,” said Dalvi.