Sitting on a small bed in his 200 sq ft house in one of the dilapidated structures in Bhendi Bazaar, Rizwan Patni recalls how his family was terrified after the collapse of an old building in the area last year.
The sight of the building, Husaini, getting reduced to piles of rubble after heavy rains gave Patni and his family many sleepless nights.
But, now the family has decided to shift before the upcoming monsoon season to an alternative accommodation being provided at a revised rental allowance by the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT), which has undertaken the ambitious task of redeveloping the dilapidated structures in the area.
The 117-year-old Husaini building in the congested Bhendi Bazaar area in South Mumbai came crashing down in August last year amid torrential rains. Over 30 people were killed in the tragedy.
“Just the thought that their (victims) fate could be ours, made us feel unsettled. In fact, till this date, I often wake up in the middle of the night after hearing any sound, thinking it could be another building collapse,” Patni said.
The 49-year-old man and his four family members live in a bylane on the ground floor of a building, which is as old as the busy Bhendi Bazaar located in the heart of the city.
What hurts him the most is the everyday hassles of using a common toilet on his floor.
But now, Patni and his family members are eagerly waiting to sign the alternate accommodation agreement with the SBUT and move to a temporary housing establishment in the neighbourhood, and subsequently in a house redeveloped under the project.
“It has been my dream that my family and I live in a self-sustained house. The new rental allowance by the SBUT is good enough for us to find a spacious apartment in the neighbourhood without disturbing my business in Chor Bazaar,” he said.
Patni is among the many tenants who have been counselled to vacate their dilapidated buildings before the commencement of the monsoon this year.
Recently, Dawoodi Bohra community leader Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin set up a special 16-member team to talk to the remaining tenants and expedite the process of evacuation. The SBUT is closely linked with the Dawoodi Bohra community.
One of the team members, Yusuf London, said, “In the course of five days, we re-initiated our efforts to engage with the families, understand their problems and convince them to move out of their dilapidated premises.”
“So far, we have managed to get over 100 agreements signed with seven families handing over the keys of their houses to us,” he said.
After the Husaini crash, the SBUT had advised the tenants to move to their transit accommodations in Chunabhatti, a suburb on the Harbour line of the Central Railway.
Over 300 families were shifted to these transit units, but many were not ready to vacate their premises because of travel hassles.
“The Syedna was concerned about the families still living in the crumbling structures. Hence, he ordered a revision of the rental policy to make it more attractive for tenants to move to safer accommodations,” a SBUT spokesperson said.
Another resident Farooq Patel, 51, living in Khokawala building in Bhendi Bazaar, shared his concerns on why his family was initially not ready to move out despite receiving warnings.
“We were hesitant to shift because of the uncertainty of the project timelines. But given the condition of our building and the forthcoming monsoon season, we decided to put our trust in the project and opt for the revised rental offer and move out,” he said.
A few months ago, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) chief Milind Mhaiskar had isited Bhendi Bazaar to understand the redevelopment project and its challenges.
On inspecting the decrepit living conditions, he had instructed his team to expedite the certification process and use available regulations to deal with non-consenting tenants who refuse to vacate the premises despite being provided with rental compensation or alternative accommodation.
The SBUT has so far made over 2,400 families and 600 businesses to vacate their premises as part of their urban makeover project.
The venture envisages uplifting the environs of Bhendi Bazaar to offer its occupants excellent living conditions and a conducive business environment, backed by state-of-the-art infrastructure and modern facilities.