Located in the heart of the financial capital, the Dadar-Mahim-Dharavi belt of central Mumbai is seen by millions of motorists and commuters as one big bottleneck, while heading into or out of the commercial complexes of South Mumbai or central Mumbai. For years, the G North Ward has been characterised most prominently by its long traffic pile-ups. Whether it’s the hawkers off Tilak Bridge and Keshav Sut flyover or the nearly impossible to negotiate pavements around Dadar railway station, Plaza Cinema, Kabutar Khana, the infamous Mahim traffic bottleneck or that at Dharavi, adds an extra half hour to 45 minutes to road commutes.
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The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Comprehensive Mobility Plan attributes the high footfall in the G North Ward to the presence of two important railway stations — Dadar which connects Central and Western Railway lines and Mahim which connects Western and Harbour lines. These stations act as interchanges for the three railway lines, impacting traffic in the surrounding areas. According to the Railways, the average daily footfall at Dadar station alone is 5.5 lakh.
According to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader and corporator of Ward 185 Sandeep Deshpande, slow traffic on narrow roads is aggravated by the large number of hawkers. “Even though roads here should be widened, there is no space to do so and the hawkers add to the problem. Despite pointing out the issues, the ward office refuses to take proactive action against hawkers. This has made driving on these flyovers and walking on these footpaths a nightmare,” he says.
Deshpande adds that the traffic police should take action against illegal parking along the roads. “If vehicles changing lanes or parking illegally on the major roads and heavy containers driving in the daytime are kept in check by the traffic police, vehicular movement can be significantly improved,” he says.
Ward officials indicate that the significant increase in vehicles has contributed to the heavy traffic on all four major roads around Dadar. “The heaviest traffic is seen on Senapati Bapat Marg, Gokhale Road, Lady Jamshedji Road and Swatantra Veer Savarkar Road. In the last five years, the vehicles increased by around 300 per cent and these roads need to be widened by 50 per cent to accommodate vehicles,” says Assistant Municipal Commissioner G North, Ramakant Biradar.
Terming the issues as recurring ones, MNS corporator Sudhir Jadhav of Ward 184 says that while there is little scope for widening of roads in absence of a hawker’s policy, a more sustainable solution is needed. “Even though the Supreme Court guidelines state that a 150 metre radius outside a railway station should be hawker-free, the reality is contrary at Dadar and Mahim stations. When large number of people exit Dadar station, they walk into crowded roads near Dadar flower market mostly occupied by hawkers selling all kinds of wares,” he says. Ward officials said there are around 5000 hawkers operating in the ward.
While Dadar and Mahim account for five of G North’s 11 electoral wards, the remaining six wards fall in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum where basic amenities continue to be lacking.
Raju Korde who heads Dharavi Bachao Andolan Samiti says that apart from lack of clean water, Daravi suffers from a severe shortage of healthcare facilities and municipal schools. “Despite having such a large population, there is only one health dispensary in Dharavi. People are compelled to go to Sion Hospital. There are only two municipal schools due to which most parents admit their children to private schools,” he says.
Among other amenities, Korde says the children no longer have access to playgrounds in Dharavi. “The only ground where children could play was taken over by seven buildings for the Dharavi transit camp. None of them is being used — they have been sitting empty for months,” he says. Congress corporator Vakil Shaikh of Ward 178 says the BMC has failed to provide adequate sanitation. “While sewerage lines are present at very few places, the number of toilet blocks available is not proportionate to the total population. There is no systematic door-to-door collection of garbage and the NGO employed by the BMC only sends a few people to clean exteriors of the area while the inner parts of Dharavi remain filthy,” he says.
Water contamination is common. “Many people especially children fall sick due to contaminated water. Such complaints regularly come from areas like Balika Nagar,” he says.
G North is an MNS stronghold, with five of the 11 wards being represented by its corporators. Two of the other wards are led by Congress corporators, the remaining corporators are one from Samajwadi Party, one from RPI and one independent. Shiv Sena has one sitting corporator in G North, BJP has none.