Where should we go after vacating the structure, tenants of Mumbai’s Esplanade Mansion ask

The future seems uncertain for around 156 tenants of the 150-year-old Esplanade Mansion in Kala Ghoda, not just because the UNESCO-recognised heritage structure is dangerously unstable, but also because even if they vacate, they might not have anywhere else to go.

The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) is currently carrying out a vacating exercise after the heritage structure was found unsafe for use, but the tenants say they have not been provided an alternate like a transit camp for temporary use in case they have
to make an emergency evacuation.

“We have resided here for decades, but we understand that considering the condition of the building is not good, we will have to vacate. At the same time, we do not have anywhere to go. Mhada has not provided transit camp accommodation for those who have to vacate their houses on an immediate basis,” said Mansi Pingle, a resident of Esplanade Mansion.

“We will manage to find a place to stay for our family until the transit camp is provided but we have no space for the furniture. Mhada says we have to fully vacate the house, and hence provision of temporary accommodation should have been prompt,” she added.

Esplanade Mansion, home to the erstwhile Watson’s Hotel, houses numerous commercial businesses from stationery stores to lawyers’ offices. There are also nearly 20 residential tenants, all of whom will have to vacate the heritage building between May 31 and June 3.

A recent Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) report had concluded that repairing the structure could pose a danger to the tenants as many structural elements of the building do not mandate safe usage.

Another tenant, Ali Mohammad, the owner of Army Restaurant, said, “We have been operating here since 1936, and today Mhada has sealed our place citing it is not safe for use. I understand that it requires repair but Mhada says IIT-B has concluded the need for its demolition and in this scenario, where do we go after vacating our commercial space? Mhada says they do not have any provision to provide temporary accommodation to commercial tenants.”

An official from the housing authority confirmed that while there are no provisions for commercial tenants, the residential ones will be shifted to a transit camp.

“We have transit camps where we can accommodate residential tenants in the next two months. Our main concern, for now, is to comply with court orders and have the building vacated by Monday,” said the Mhada official.

Despite the IIT-B report that confirms the dangerous state of the structure, many tenants allege that the building is in repairable condition but claim there is a deliberate attempt to demolish and redevelop it for profit.

“It is a heritage structure that should be preserved. Instead, we have the authorities trying to demolish and redevelop to generate surplus property for sale,” said Dhimant Nagarseth, a commercial tenant.

As of Saturday, Mhada officials said around 60 tenants had voluntarily vacated their homes and shops. “Monday is the last day to complete the vacating and evicting exercise of Esplanade Mansion,” said Dinkar Jagdale, chief officer, Mhada’s repair board.

“The decision to repair and restore or demolish and rebuild the building will be decided by the Bombay high court on Tuesday. If the court orders redevelopment of the building by demolishing it, we will do the needful.”

First Published:
Jun 03, 2019 00:30 IST

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