Occupants vacate Esplanade Mansion

Residents fear bleak future; IIT report was ‘casual’: BMC-certified engineer

Amidst outrage and helplessness over an uncertain future, over 150 occupants of Esplanade Mansion in south Mumbai vacated their homes on Friday.

The building, formerly known as Watson Hotel, was declared ‘dilapidated beyond repair’ in a structural audit conducted by a team from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, after which the Bombay High Court issued orders for it to be vacated. The building, which is recognised by the UNESCO as a heritage structure, has been in controversy for being unsafe for nearly 50 years.

The four-storey building houses around 100 commercial establishments, including art galleries, offices and stationery shops, which have been operating for around 40 years.

Sunil Chauhan, owner of Artline Gallery on the third floor, said he had not faced any problem with the structure yet. “This decision is one-sided and will affect our earnings. We just hope they repair the building and do not demolish it,” he said.

Mr. Chauhan plans to shift his gallery to Delhi for now, while others are looking for smaller spaces around the building so they can stay close to their customer base. Not everyone, however, has been so lucky and there are some who have still not found alternative options. “Where will we go now? We are not even offered compensation. We have families to feed and the only source of our income has been taken away from us,” said Arvind Nandu, who owns a photocopy outlet in the building.

The building’s owner, Sadiq Ali Noorani (70), who has been living there for 40 years, said the IIT team did not carry out a proper technical survey. “One person just came and had a look at the exteriors of the building before leaving. No inspection was done after that,” he said. He said the tenants consulted a structural engineer certified by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

Santosh Shinde, the engineer, said the building does not need demolition. “It is a one-of-a-kind building that should be repaired and preserved. The IIT report submitted to the High Court was very casual in nature as no inspection had been done.”

Advocate Rajesh Singh, who is representing the tenants, said, “Apart from improper inspection, there is another matter of concern. Under the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority Act, it is the right of the tenants and landlord to get some sort of compensation, which has not been given.”

IIT declined comment on the matter, saying it is sub judice.

The occupants have a court hearing scheduled on June 4, where they will demand compensation and that the heritage site be preserved.

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