The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has asked commercial establishments running from the dilapidated Esplanade Mansion in south Mumbai, to down the shutters for the time being. It is a historical building, recognised by UNESCO as a heritage structure but now considered hazardous. The building, formerly known as Watson Hotel, was built with cast iron fabricated in England and holds the distinction of hosting the first-ever film screening in India in 1896.
The civic body has so far served notices to nine commercial establishments, asking them to stop operating from the premises, until the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay submits a structural stability report. Though the building is rickety, its occupants – many of them lawyers who have offices there – have given an undertaking to the Bombay High Court that they would like to stay put and will be solely responsible for the consequences. “However, we are fearful for customers who visit the building and who are not aware (of the danger it poses). To avoid any untoward incident, as a preventive measure, we have asked commercial owners or operators to keep their businesses closed for some time,” a senior civic official said.
The popular Army Restaurant, which runs from the ground floor of the five-storey building, has been closed, following the BMC notice. Another occupant, ‘Smart and Hollywood Ladies & Gents Tailor’, said to be the city’s oldest tailoring establishment, too has been asked to close. Mumtaz Ahmed, who has been working at the shop for over five decades, said the shop will soon down its shutters. “We have stitched clothes for Miss Indias back in the 1950s and 1960s and also for Alyque Padamsee’s (theatrical) productions,” Ahmed said.
Assistant municipal commissioner Kiran Dighavkar said the BMC’s notices conform to the guidelines laid down by the Bombay High Court while hearing the matter, when some of the occupants moved the court against eviction notices. “The decision (to issue present notices) respects the high court ruling’s framework,” he said.
The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), responsible for the upkeep of old buildings, placed the building in the list of ‘most dangerous’ in 2010 and asked its occupants to vacate it. However, the occupants moved the court, arguing that the building was ‘repairable’ and MHADA should repair it. “The building is extremely rickety and we served them notices twice. Now the matter is sub-judice,” said a MHADA official.