Girgaum’s two-storey Kranti Nagar chawls, once home to 108 families, stand vacant, waiting to be bulldozed for the underground Colaba-Seepz Metro 3 corridor, cutting through the heart of the city. Nearby, residents of the three-storey Annapurna Niwas are vacating houses. Their structure is the next and last on the list of 30 buildings making way for the Metro route along the crammed 50ft Jagannath Shanker Sheth (JSS) Road in the Girgaum-Kalbadevi belt.
The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), which is executing the project, has succeeded in convincing locals to surrender their almost century-old houses so that the corridor can pass through the underbelly of one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. Kalbadevi and Girgaon stations will come up on this stretch. Perhaps, this is the government’s biggest-ever rehabilitation project involving legal middle-class tenants for an urban infrastructure project.
The area is home to traditional middle-class Marathi and Gujarati families whose ancestors have been part of Maharashtra’s and India’s freedom struggles. It is here that Mumbai’s iconic Ganeshotsav began. MMRC has taken over 10,000 sq m of this locality on which stood the 30 buildings that were home to 423 families and 289 commercial units. In lieu, the displaced will get in situ rehabilitation in three highrises— Kalbadevi Commercial Centre, Kalbadevi Heights and Girgaon Heights—latest by 2021 with flats that will be double their existing areas. Meanwhile, MMRC is offering rent as per the locality’s current market rate for families to move out of the area.
Residents like Uma Karekar and her retired husband don’t think the rent is adequate. When TOI visited their one-room tenement in Annapurna Niwas, they were packing to leave for their son’s house in Thane. “We are getting Rs 22,000 per month but the rents are higher. We have no choice but to leave,” said Karekar.
Initially, MMRC had planned only monetary compensation or accommodation as per the Relief and Rehabilitation policy. The cost of rehabilitation then was Rs 91 crore and the MMRC was planning to acquire 29 plots. But the project ran into opposition.
R Ramanna, MMRC’s executive director, said, “It was a complicated phase. We even thought of dropping these two stations from the corridor for the time being.”
Recalling the stand-off, a resident said, “We are attached not only to our property but also to the area. It has its unique culture and ethos. We were not willing to shift.” The opposition subsided when MMRC announced there would be in situ rehabilitation. The new buildings will be equipped with modern amenities, parking, a terrace garden and will be integrated with the stations below—a huge upgrade from the earlier crumbling structures.
MMRC’s chief of relief and rehabilitation Maya Patole said, “Moreover, CM Devendra Fadnavis announced that each tenant will get double the existing area, it was a game changer and left no scope for opposition.” The list of plots to be acquired was pared to 20 but the cost of rehabilitation soared to Rs 700 crore.
“We were transparent with our dealings with the tenants. We heard their problems and involved them in the planning stage when the consultant was finalising the drawings for the highrises. It worked out so good that residents whose buildings were not affected approached us to take up redevelopment of their properties. We had to tell them we could not do so,” says Patole.
On the site, work is on in full swing for the two stations. Buildings are being razed within days of residents vacating them and machines are constantly at work flattening the ground surface, leaving no signs of what might have stood there once, not even rubble. MMRC claims that a work order for the three towers will be awarded in three months as tenders will be floated anytime soon.
But Karekar’s neighbour Anuraddha Vaidya has some other concerns, those that tug at her heart. “I have been living here for 50 years now. Our neighbours are like extended families. Though the rent is fine and we are happy that we will get bigger houses but will my neighbours be housed in the same building?” asks Vaidya.