The Gateway of India and its surroundings have seen the development of Mumbai from a straggly string of seven islands to the megapolis it is today. And, maybe, the early residents of that portion of Colaba were the Kolis (Kola Bhat) and the Arab seamen who inhabited the wharves (Al Omani Island as it was once called), but today's residents are the members of what is known as CHCRA or the Clean Heritage Colaba Residents’ Association.
The Association was founded in the year 2015 when a few local and active citizens got together and realized that there are various challenges to be faced in the area that need to be addressed with each passing year. The objective of the association was to hold the elected members responsible and accountable. Colaba, especially the area around Taj Palace Hotel and Apollo Bunder as well as bylanes along Mere Weather Road (Boman Cawasji Boman Behram Marg), has several heritage buildings which are iconic. Besides, says Subhash Motwani President of the CHCRA, "We wanted to maintain transparency with what we do for the citizens of our area and as the area comprises of residents as well as commercial establishments, the commercial establishments are sometimes able to “manage” authorities, and the residents stand neglected."The founding members of the Association were Subhash Motwani, Pervez Cooper, Meher Sanjana and Rahul Parulekar. The meaning of the acronym is:
Clean: Transparency and to keep the surroundings “clean” or garbage and nuisance free.
Heritage: To conserve the Heritage buildings and its surrounds.
Colaba: The area that is covered.
Residents: To ensure that there is no nuisance value due to over commercialization of the area.
Association: Group of individuals who will actively engage with authorities without compromising on what the association stands for.
CHCRA covers area from Regal upto Colaba Market that includes lanes and bylanes along P. Ramchandani Marg, Boman Kawasji Boman Behram Marg and Shahid Bhagat Singh Road as well as Arthur Bunder Road (HNAA Marg), which is a combination of commercial and residential buildings including the floating tourist population especially on holidays, weekends and during festivals.
The area itself is a complicated jumble of residential and commercial spaces. It houses religious places, schools, commercial establishments, the iconic Taj Palace Hotel, which has VIP movements as well as high profile visitors, Gateway of India – the iconic symbol of Mumbai, a club, a cinema hall, a garden, street shopping, and more.
Says Subhash, "The main issues that have been constantly monitored and controlled are the challenges faced due to the vagrants including drug peddlers, the menace of double parking and parking violations due to floating traffic, illegal hawkers, encroachments of pavement and sidewalks and safety for children, women and senior citizens who reside in the area.
Additionally, as quite a few buildings are heritage structures, there have also been a few challenges as some of the buildings are tenanted and there is unnecessary harassment from vested landlords, commercial establishments through valet parking facilities, garbage issues with the floating tourist population who visit take-away joints and discard disposables on sidewalks.With complacency and inefficient systems there is always ambiguity about roles and responsibilities assigned to police, traffic and the Municipal Corporation responsible for the area. There are challenges of who will take onus to get rid of illegal hawkers selling their wares on the streets – is it the police or the BMC, and who will take responsibility for controlling the escalation of illegal hawkers on the sidewalk.
Likewise, double parking is a huge menace due to flourishing of commercial establishments who conveniently encourage the valet drivers to park vehicles in residential areas giving rise to parking touts who illegally charge for parking on the road.
"With all these issues to tackle, the Association has an impressive track record. Explains Subhash, "Our constant interactions with ministers, corporators, MLAs, police, BMC, traffic department has helped in the following:
a. Organising beat officers for traffic to keep vigilance of lanes and bylanes in check from double parking menace through constant engagement with the traffic department including engaging with Jt. Commissioner of Traffic, organizing a walk-around of the area by DCPs and local authorities to let them experience first-hand the challenges faced. Our constant endeavour has also resulted in the BEST depot being assigned as a parking area for tourist and outside vehicles.
b. Encroachments, which literally happen on a regular basis, are controlled through constant interactions with the municipal authorities of ‘A’ ward independent of corporators at times who are either having different priorities or preferences. This has resulted in no further encroachments of side-walks including stalling other lanes and bylanes of the area to be converted into hawking zones too, which would mean the area would be even more chaotic.
c. Help provided to senior citizens – Creating online groups and forums for interacting with senior citizens, which forms a relatively large segment of the population of Colaba through which other members can support them in areas where they lack information or wish to seek assistance. This has been invaluable especially during Covid times including assisting senior citizens to get online appointments for vaccinations, engaging with local corporator and their representatives to assign specific times where vaccinations can be obtained efficiently for senior citizens without making them wait for long hours at hospitals.
d. Stalling 24x7 nightlife through media support as the area is already bursting at the seems. It was supposedly the first area to experiment with 24x7 nightlife. And constant interaction with authorities and media has made those keen on extending 24x7 nightlife in the area without knowing the ground reality move to other areas to start their pilot project of nightlife.
e. Engaging with Commissioner of Police and top level officials to control the escalation of vagrancy has been a continuous challenge and is always a challenge based on the efficiency levels and commitment of officials at BMC and the police.f. Installing speed breakers on concretized roads to minimize the risk of accidents, especially from two wheelers.
g. Getting rid of the toilet installed along the Gateway of India ruining the heritage precinct."All in all, the picture that emerges is that of a strong willed group of individuals like Subhash Motwani, Parvez Cooper and Meher Sanjana to name just a few, steadfastly facing up to a bewildering number of authorities and challenges that face the place they have chosen to call home.