Close to a year since 34 people died after a building collapsed in Bhendi Bazaar, the monsoon this year has residents on the edge. Even as the tragedy of the 117-year-old Husaini Building remains fresh in the memory of local residents, the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT), which is carrying out cluster redevelopment in the area, is struggling with at least 400 tenants of neighbouring buildings of similar age, who have resisted moving out of their buildings.
Farida Mansuri, a Null Bazaar resident and member of the mohalla committee at the J J Marg police station, said residents of buildings declared dangerous and cessed are willing to shift out but have not been given a clear roadmap for the future by the SBUT. “We don’t know where to go. If we leave, we face an uncertain future. But if we stay it is very dangerous,” she said.
A spokesperson for the trust said that between 600 and 700 tenants have been shifted to transit homes or moved into rental accommodation since September in addition to the 1,800 who have left previously.
Salman Kazi, a social worker based in Bhendi Bazaar who owns houses and shops in the Dambarwala building, which is next to where the Husaini Building was, said he and fellow residents are sceptical about the SBUT’s offer of two years’ rent paid in advance. “They are not telling us anything about what we should do beyond two years. If they give us a written agreement, we can think about shifting,” he said. Kazi claimed he is now the sole tenant at the Dambarwala building with all others having moved out since last year’s tragedy. “We have been telling them for a long time that the monsoon is coming and to do something. They have only told us to vacate,” he said.
Like other remaining tenants, Kazi is not enthused at having to move to the SBUT’s transit accommodation in Chunabhatti, leaving behind his business in Bhendi Bazaar. “It is better to die here once than to die every day on the commute to Bhendi Bazaar for work from Chunabhatti,” he said about the prospect of spending a monsoon surrounded by unstable buildings.
“The team has been engaging with the tenants on a one-to-one basis. For the last few months, the team has been explaining to the tenants the perils of staying in such dilapidated buildings during the monsoon. We also took out a peace march on May 13, sent out mass SMSes and made a public interest video,” said the spokesperson.
The spokesperson added that while MHADA had issued 95 (A) eviction notices to the tenants who are still living in the area, the trust has doubled the monthly rent from a minimum Rs. 15,000 to Rs 30,000 so that tenants can find accommodation in the same vicinity. “We are working on a war-footing and are really concerned about the lives of tenants,” the spokesperson added.