SoBo residents take on builder who wants ancient temple shifted

08-02The temple, believed to be more than 160 years old, is located at Vaidyawadi in Thakurdwar. The builder has permissions to shift it, but residents have the backing of the Bajrang Dal.

A temple in Girgaum, believed to be around 160 years old, is at the centre of a dispute between residents and a builder, who is redeveloping the colony and has the BMC authorisation to shift the structure. The matter has escalated to such an extent that the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have promised to save the structure, even as residents recently met with Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray. 

Police, fearing communal flare-up, issued a couple of notices warning residents against aggression, while the builder has said that he “won’t be intimidated by a couple of residents protesting the structure’s shifting”. 

The ground-plus-one storey structure, dedicated to Lord Vitthal and Rukmini, is spread across 1,000 sq ft at Vaidyawadi in Thakurdwar. Residents have approached the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC), demanding the temple, believed to have been constructed in 1851, be included as heritage structure. 

Mentioned in a 1895 book 

Historian Deepak Rao said that the date of construction isn’t available, but there is a reference to the temple in a book published in 1895, titled ‘The Hindu Temples of Bombay’ by K Raghunathji, grandfather of late Sena leader Pramod Navalkar. 

Vaidyawadi, home to 138 tenants, was taken over for redevelopment by Kushalraj Land Developers Private Limited, owned by brothers Ravi Kothari and Narendra Kothari, more than five years ago. The developer said that only two tenants were creating trouble for personal gains, while the rest have supported the structure’s shifting. 

“We have all permissions, be it from BMC, MHADA or any other authorities. Are the concerned authorities foolish to allow us anything illegal? Only two residents are creating problems with an intention to blackmailing us into giving them a better space in the redeveloped structure,” Ravi Kothari said. 

‘An ancient place of faith’ 

“On what basis has BMC given permission to the builder to shift the temple?” asked Shaila Gore, 66, member of the Girgaum Puratan Mandir Bachao Samiti. “The temple is an ancient place of faith that should either be left as it is, or renovated with dignity. The builder got the stone inscription marking the age of the temple removed three months ago. We have photographic evidence,” Gore said. 

The builder, however, denied such a thing, and said, “The temple might be an old structure but is not a heritage structure. We didn’t get the inscription removed. The new spot for the temple has been chosen with consent of all the other tenants,” Kothari said. 

In what has become a game of one man’s word against another, the residents said they never approved of the ‘chosen spot’. “The builder wants to shift the temple to a cramped corner between two buildings. It’s an unhygienic spot, near a manhole and sewage pipe,” alleged Sanjay Mervekar, 54. Last Friday, Senior Inspector Suresh Kilje from V P Road Police Station issued a notice to the residents, asking them to approach the court or settle the matter with the builder. On Tuesday, he issued another notice to residents, saying they were “unnecessarily raking up trouble”. 

The police notice accused the residents of “spreading rumours” and warned that they would be helped responsible for trouble arising out of the issue. “The builder has bought the property and four residents who are troubling the builder are outsiders. I have issued a notice to them,” Kilje told Mumbai Mirror. 

Politicians divided 

The area’s corporator, Surendra Bagalkar from the Shiv Sena, threw in his lot behind the builder. “I also visit this temple regularly, but this protest by a handful of tenants is unnecessary, and is holding up the housing dream of the other 136 tenants,” he told this newspaper. 

Bagalkar said he will not stop the builder from shifting the temple. “He has the necessary permissions and is willing to relocate the temple. There is nothing I can do officially,” he said. Shankar Gaikar from the Bajrang Dal, however, said the temple will be “protected at any cost”. “The temple is ancient, and has a deep stambh. It must be protected at all costs. In fact, the builder must conserve the heritage property,” Gaikar said. 

This newspaper found that the BMC’s building proposals department passed the plans to shift the temple. However, executive engineer Avinash Tambe Wagh said he didn’t want to speak about the controversy. “I am not authorised to speak with the press,” he said.