IF there is one administrative ward to watch for the party that has posted the most surprising gains in the state in recent years, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (MIM), it would be E Ward. The Muslim-dominated Byculla region of the ward is already represented by the MIM’s sole legislator in Mumbai, while the Samajwadi Party is trying to rebuild its strength in the region. With the Congress holding three of the eight electoral wards here, the election mix is set to be interesting.
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With its MLA Waris Pathan having buttressed his support in Byculla over the past couple of years, MIM considers E Ward its stronghold. Rais Shaikh, the SP group leader in the BMC who is a corporator from M East, will now contest from Madanpura in E Ward as his own ward is now reserved for a woman candidate. Neither party has a corporator among the sitting eight, but the seven electoral wards here (post-delimitation) are set to be closely fought by these two parties.
Agreeing that the party’s support in the area has declined since the arrival of the MIM, Shaikh says the SP will field candidates in all seven wards. “In 2002, when the party was formed, we had three corporators in E Ward. It was our stronghold. But over the years, the local leadership has become weak,” he concedes. In 2012, the SP contested in four of the eight wards, but won none.
Spread out over 7.27 square kilometres, E ward includes areas such as Nagpada, Agripada, Mazgaon, Byculla, Madanpura and Wadi Bunder. The two biggest issues in the ward are the large number of dilapidated buildings and the situation emerging from the demolition of the Hancock bridge across the railway tracks. Crucial for east-west connectivity, the 135-year-old Hancock bridge was demolished in January. Thousands of pedestrians are now forced to take a much longer alternate route or risk their lives illegally crossing the tracks on foot.
Pathan, who staged a protest in April and demanded a temporary bridge for pedestrians, says, “Apart from the office-goers, thousands of students who were using the bridge have been badly affected. The case is now under litigation which has further delayed the work. We will continue to demand a temporary bridge. It will be one of the issues we take up in our campaign.”
Voicing his stand on the same issue, Congress corporator Manoj Jamsutkar says poor planning and lack of coordination between the BMC and the Railways were to blame. “We are still approached by people who complain of inconvenience. The matter has gone to court since the BMC appointed a blacklisted contractor. The BMC should have either arranged for an alternate pedestrian bridge or finalised the contractor before demolishing the bridge,” he says.
Pathan’s opinion on the issue of dilapidated buildings is that additional funds are imperative for the much-needed repairs. “Apart from structural repairs, the old buildings also face problems of water shortage as their pipelines are much narrower than those of the new buildings. As a result, comparatively, they receive less water,” he says.
Shaikh says he will also focus on the old and inadequate sanitation infrastructure in some of the poorer island city wards. “In areas such as Sankli Street and Madanpura, there has been no upgrade of the sewerage network for the growing density of population. As the old buildings will opt for re-development, the old network has to be expanded to accommodate everyone,” he says.
Education in municipal schools is another issue that Shaikh is studying closely. There are 19 municipal primary schools in E ward, all with enrollment down to about 30 per cent of average. “There are very few English-medium civic schools here. Middle class parents don’t want to send their children to vernacular medium schools any more, so they opt for private schools,” he says. Better quality of education and new English medium classes in the surplus rooms are his ideas to resolve the crisis.
Apart from the Congress, the ruling Shiv Sena represents two electoral wards, and the MNS one. The Akhil Bhartiya Sena (ABS), a party started by don-turned-politician Arun Gawli, has two corporators — Gawli’s daughter Geeta and sister-in-law Vandana Gawli. They two are gearing up to retain their presence in the area. Geeta says the rehabilitation of slum residents in the area is her priority. “The ward has a high Muslim population with large families. Even though they have been living in the area for years, the BMC sends them evacuation notices. We will fight for them to be rehabilitated in the same area to ensure their livelihood is not affected,” she says.