Residents' Association Series: How to forge a model residential enclave

When the City Improvement Trust Board reclaimed about 75000 square metres of land at the southern tip of Bombay and named it Cuffe Parade after their T.W.Cuffe, they envisioned a long row of stately mansions on the southern-most tip of Bombay, with a promenade fronting the gentle waters of the Arabian Sea. Cuffe Parade led to the Navy Nagar, which in those days was a restricted area. The peaceful area even had a sanatorium where TB patients could recover while ‘taking in the breeze’.

In the 1960s, the Government of Maharashtra reclaimed another bit of land that changed the shape and the nature of this quiet road. This was the time when real estate was gold. High-rise buildings came up on the newly reclaimed area in an orderly fashion, and sprawling slums mushroomed on prime seafront land all around.

The strange compulsions of our city planners then allowed the towering World Trade Centre buildings and a few buildings of the Maker Towers to host commercial establishments, further changing the nature and the feel of this quiet residential area.

At the peak of the real estate boom Cuffe Parade was seen as a swish area by residents, office goers and slum lords. Successive elected representatives and a complicit Municipal Corporation conveniently passed the buck between ‘Collectors Land’ and BMC land and ensured that a series of slum pockets spread from Navy Nagar to Nariman Point. With politicians vying with one another to dole out freebies to this massive vote bank, the residents of the flats who were living in some of the most expensive real estate of its time found themselves short-changed, paying steep taxes and not getting the kind of service they deserved from the civic officials.

And, that was the void that the Cuffe Parade Residents Association (CPRA) began to fill. The newly elected representatives of the CPRA have their job cut out for themselves. Aditi Jain, the suave and affable new President of the CPRA, has members from over 42 buildings as her constituents.

She lists as her priority areas garden maintenance (since CPRA is the caretaker for the benefit of all the Residents), representation in terms of policies and other civic issues, beautification and cleanliness of the area, effective waste management and green initiatives for a lasting impact, security and fellowship amongst Cuffe Paradians. A pretty ambitious list.

You might think that the residents were paying taxes for just these things, but then Residents Associations like the CPRA are ensuring these points at their own cost.

Cuffe Parade has some very well-maintained gardens, the Bay View Marina, Colaba Woods, CPRA Greens and a delightful seawalk. These are maintained by the CPRA (Bay View Marina and the Greens), the BMC (Colaba Woods) and the residents of the Maker Towers A & B (Seawalk). In fact, the Bay View Marina is a classic case of a residents association weighing in to create and maintain a large plot of land, which was illegally reclaimed under the noses of the civic authorities. This has been developed into a green lung with walking paths and gazebos and a planned football ground as well.

A spanking new garden has been developed behind the World Trade Centre by the BMC, but for some reason has not been thrown open to the public. Another garden was handed over to the President Hotel apparently citing security reasons after the 26/11 bomb blasts.

The challenges the CPRA faces are many. Chief among them are the encroachments on the footpaths by hawkers and, of course, the proliferation of slums and commercial establishments on what is called ‘Collectors Land’. One would see the growth of the shops, restaurants and the like opposite Badhwar Park as a classic example of the corruption fuelled apathy by government officials who seem to have no accountability at all.

The Machimar Nagar, which houses probably the oldest residents of the area is also home to the very successful Lighthouse Project of the Rotary Club of Bombay where little kids are taught spoken English and computer literacy in a nice air conditioned room. Members of CPRA like Hansu Advani along with Kunti Oza help in regular beach clean-up operations there. This Environment Committee operates an on-going plastic bottle clean-up drive using a machine that converts the plastic waste into pellets for re use elsewhere. The machine, donated by the Rotary Club of Bombay is presently situated in the Bayview Marina Garden.

Aditi Jain goes on to lament the lack of response from civic authorities and the police to the problems of encroachments, general cleanliness and traffic management. And this, despite several letters, meetings and consistent follow up by her and other members of the CPRA, with sporadic help from the elected representatives. In fact, the CPRA tried a pilot where they hired security staff on two wheelers to patrol the area, an exercise temporarily halted due to the pandemic and the shortage of funds.

A separate Sub Committee of the CPRA takes care of fellowships and regular gatherings are organized coinciding with various festivals. This fosters a feeling of oneness among the residents of the area.

Some members of the CPRA have a kind word to say about Harshita Narvekar the Corporator of the area. They describe her as fairly responsive to their concerns, but obviously acutely aware of a larger voter base from the slum colonies, compounded by the dismally low voter turnout from the high-rise buildings during the last civic elections. In fact the Narvekar family consisting of Harshita and Makarand Narvekar (both Cororators) and Rahul Narvekar (MLA) pretty much make up the political establishment of Cuffe Parade and could take credit or blame for much of the present state of affairs there.

The Cuffe Parade residents display a heart of gold when it comes to animal welfare. Incidentally the people who run informal groups to take care of the stray dogs and cats prefer to call them community pets and not strays. The 114 dogs and 254 cats (yes they are documented) are sterilized and regularly vaccinated. They are also fed meticulously. People like Maneck Thakkar who heads the CPRA Animal Welfare Committee and redoubtable volunteers like Smita Shah, Nancy Lulla and Devang Vyas to name just a few are very committed to the welfare of the furry friends. The main challenges for them, of course, are fundraising and quick medical help for injured animals.

At the end of the day, the CPRA, like many other Residents Associations, steps up trying to hold the civic authorities accountable and also increase and improve the quality of services available to the residents of the area. A very trying task for Aditi Jain and her team of residents.

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