You could call it Mumbai’s very own ‘Tower of David’, the notorious skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, left incomplete and overrun by drug lords and petty criminals residing in it, illegally. Mumbai’s version of the Caracas building that featured in hit television series Homeland is not exactly a tower but the tale is no less dramatic.
Called the Cement Chawls, a row of buildings owned by the Western Railway and occupying prime space in Mumbai Central had been neglected over the years. The structures and a huge open ground in front were encroached upon by local goons, and subsequently rented out to alleged goons, criminals, drug addicts and drug peddlers. Now, having cleared the area of squatters after a huge effort, the Western Railway and the Railway Protection Force have decided to do something about these buildings.
So, what had been a dumpyard for the past 35 years is now a police training centre. Railway staffers who had colluded in illegally letting out or subletting the houses in the buildings now face prosecution, thanks to a spirited anti-encroachment drive involving top WR officials and the police.
A new air of respectability has been lent to the 60,000 sq ft area of the chawls and the ground that are have now been taken over by the police.
An ominous sign on one end of the ground says it plainly: “Bhago, police aayi.” Another sign says, ‘Kanoon khuda hai, dushman hajar hain.’
The messages are not the only sign that mischief makers must keep off the property now. Buttressing their presence is a group of 70-80 policemen constantly patrolling the area.
These buildings and the ground are now a police training centre for new recruits of the Railway Protection Force. The credit for this massive clean-up operation goes to Shailendra Kumar, Divisional Railway Manager and Anand Vijay Jha, Senior Divisional Security Commissioner Mumbai division WR, say officials.
They started with repeated raids. Eighty five of the squatters and criminals were caught and prosecuted under Sections 147, 145 and 146 of Railways Act 1989, for residing illegally aided by railway employees in the know.
The first raid was on September 26 at 6 am. After that, raids were conducted every two days with the help of the Mumbai Police. A hefty sum of Rs 98,300 was recovered from them as penalty.
The alleged kingpin was Sanjay More, a Grade IV employee working as a ward boy at Jagjeevan Ram Hospital , Mumbai Central. He used to rent out the quarters for Rs 5,000 to 15,000 a month to just about anybody who would pay.
According to Jha, the plan was to raid the place consecutively every two days. “This pressured the people who resided there. Most of them left willingly. The operation was planned very secretively. It was a challenge. But we rose to the occasion.” he said.
These three buildings have 72 single-room group quarters in which only 21 were authorised allottees. Four employees who sublet their quarters to non railway people were charge-sheeted and their allotment was cancelled. A sum of Rs 17,000 was recovered from them.
In another building of 24 quarters, declared dangerous by the railway administration, around 100 unauthorised people were staying. Right now this is being demolished.
Jha pointed out that 750 constables have been recruited for the Mumbai division of WR. Of these, 69 constables have joined and are being trained. From April 1, the others will join too. The buildings in good condition will now house the newly recruited policemen during their training period. Notices have been issued to all railway employees to vacate the building.
According to Shailendra Kumar, DRM, Mumbai, “All over Mumbai, WR is going to start such drives in Railway colonies and premises to remove unauthorised squatters and bad elements residing unauthorisedly.”