Life and times in the ‘Republic’ of Andheri | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Life and times in the ‘Republic’ of Andheri

Jul 23, 2023 12:59 AM IST

It has become de rigueur to see some of them to swap their personal vehicles with public transport to reach their destinations on time. A few months ago, tired of a two-hour drive from her home in Juhu to Mira Road, Hema Malini surprised her commuters when she took the metro on her way back and reached her destination in half an hour

Mumbai: Intensivist Dr Deepak Namjoshi, who owns four hospitals under the Criticare Asia brand in Andheri east and west, Malad and Kurla, uses both his Mercedes SUV and Sedan to shuttle between his workplaces in Andheri at the same time. Earlier, he enjoyed a brisk 18-minute to get from one place to the other “but since the bridge was closed down” the option of taking a circuitous route which included using the tedious Andheri subway – the bane of Andheri-ites during monsoons – set him on Plan-B. “Now, I drive down to D N Nagar station, take the metro to the east, and use a second car to take me to the hospital from the other side,” says Namjoshi, who recently bought a metro seasons pass. Each trip takes him anywhere between 30-45 minutes.

Traffic snarls are a constant on S V Road, due to hawkers’ menace outside Andheri west station. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT PHOTO)
Traffic snarls are a constant on S V Road, due to hawkers’ menace outside Andheri west station. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT PHOTO)

Stand-up comic Shreeja Chaturvedi has lived in the suburb for 15 years, when it was pitched as an upcoming neighbourhood with the promise of sound infrastructure facilities. “It is still an upcoming neighbourhood. There are many production houses here, but the suburb is completely cut-off from the rest of the city,” says Chaturvedi. As the neighbourhood became dotted with various ongoing infra projects, friends stopped coming over. While this feeds the scripts for her shows, which garner many laughs, she says, “Every time I put out a joke about Andheri, I feel it is premature because some or other new infra issue crops up next,” she says, adding she can barely recall a time when the Andheri RTO junction on Link Road was not dug-up.

The suburb, with a population of 17,48,606 – more than Sikkim at 6,10,577 -- is home to some of the city’s highest net worth individuals, including a significant chunk from film and television industries.

It has become de rigueur to see some of them to swap their personal vehicles with public transport to reach their destinations on time. A few months ago, tired of a two-hour drive from her home in Juhu to Mira Road, Hema Malini surprised her commuters when she took the metro on her way back and reached her destination in half an hour. Recently, Sharaddha Kapoor took an autorickshaw to reach a film studio on time; TV actor Ruhi Chaturvedi and singer Rahul Vaidya also travelled by metro rather than swelter in peak-hour traffic. (Incidentally, the metro ridership has gone up by 15 % at Andheri west stations such as Versova, DN Nagar and Azad Nagar.) Earlier this month, Zeenat Aman inspired people to use public transport when she took an autorickshaw in Juhu to pick up her friend to get coffee.

The problem bridge

The closure of Gokhale Bridge exacerbated an already chaotic life that Andheri-ites have been living, thanks to ongoing infra projects (see box). Traffic jams have been a mainstay. With the complete closure of the bridge in November, residents dread travelling between east and west.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had shut down vehicular and pedestrian movement on the old Gokhale Bridge in November 2022 and issued a work order for constructing the new prefabricated steel structure after a month. It was decided to start one arm of the bridge in May 2023, which was not possible due to a delay in the supply of raw materials by the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), following a strike in the Rourkela plant. The contractor on the job had to place an order with Jindal Steel, which pushed the deadline further to November. This deadline is also likely to be breached, with a crisis in the fabrication workshop in Ambala which occurred earlier this month.

Woes of commuters will not end soon.

P Velrasu, additional municipal commissioner, BMC, confirmed the delay, saying, “The fabrication centre in Haryana is inundated with water. Once it recedes, we will know the exact period of delay – three to four weeks, most likely.”

Citizens of Andheri east and west are beleaguered with the civic body’s failure in executing its own comprehensive plan to decongest Andheri after closing the bridge. It was planned to deploy 200 additional wardens for traffic management, removing hawkers and illegally parked vehicles from the areas of the alternate route including the Andheri west area. The plan also included filling up potholes on the alternate routes. BMC said it had requested Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) to narrow down the barricades placed on the SV Road in Andheri to ease traffic jam. The area also faces hawker menace, who throng SV Road near the Andheri west station, chocking the road leading to Andheri subway, one of the nearest alternate routes.

Apart from this, in just three weeks of the onset of monsoons, the subway was shut at least five times due to water logging and flooding, adding to the suffering of harrowed commuters of this prime location.

Art of living

Dr Namjoshi and Chaturvedi are part of a larger tribe in the suburb who vent their anguish on various social media platforms. Businessman Jiten Budhdeo, wonders why citizens should invest in new residences here priced at 55,000 and 60,000 per square feet. He weaves his way from his home in Vile Parle to office in Andheri east every day. What used to earlier take him 20-25 minutes now takes him an additional 45 minutes.

He draws parallels of his daily commute with meeting the challenges in a video game. Budhdeo says, “Level 1 is just taking a U-turn from my building to go towards the Vile Parle east-west flyover. Level 2 is passing through a school which is right at the entrance of this narrow flyover, level 3 is when I have crossed the flyover and navigate through traffic jams and narrow lanes near Bahar cinema. With every passing day, the difficulty level increases.”

Film-maker Niranjan Patwardhan, who works with Madhur Bhandharkar’s production house and travels from Thane, says, “With Gokhale Bridge closed, all other entry points to the west are always packed to capacity. The Vile Parle bridge on the east is choc-o-block with vehicles for three kilometres, till Kol Dongri. This leads to subways getting blocked. Since heavy vehicular traffic is not allowed on the other two bridges, the Jogeshwari bridge bears the brunt. A distance of 22-kms from my house in Thane to Veera Desai Road which should take a maximum of maximum 45 minutes takes 1.45 hours one way, in peak afternoon traffic,” he says.

Balram Vishwakarma, a marketing professional, who also runs the popular Instagram page ‘Andheri west S*** Posting’, feels “war-torn towns of Ukraine have better infrastructure than the Link Road stretch from Anand Nagar to Star Bazar”.

“The BMC and state government have no empathy for people of Andheri and the western suburbs – sometimes, it seems they are out to punish us,” says Vishwakarma. “South Mumbai has a fraction of Andheri’s population which is not disturbed by the construction of coastal road. The administration is taking years to build a basic 500-meter bridge that connects east to west.”

Matter of real estate

The closure of Gokhale Bridge has realigned the real estate dynamics in the western suburbs, which has been clocking the maximum volume of sales in Mumbai compared to the island city, eastern suburbs, and far suburbs every quarter.

“The capital appreciation has not been impacted so much but leasing of apartments has seen a dip, especially in residential areas closer to the Andheri station. The Metro has somewhat compensated for the logjam in east-west connectivity. Otherwise, it would have been a nightmare,” said Ritesh Mehta, senior director and Hlhead, West and North India, Residential Services, at real estate advisory JLL.

He said Andheri does not have large complexes with amenities like Goregaon has, and the homebuyers who wished to rent in Andheri are now looking at Goregaon which has better east-west connectivity. Andheri’s 800 sq ft 2BHK commands rent in the range of 50,000 to 60,000, and a 2BHK apartment for outright sale is in the range of 2.5 to 2.75 crore. “People with cars are finding it easier to travel by metro. They finish their meetings and ask drivers to reach a designated spot for pick-ups,” says Mehta.

Ankur Jain, CEO, Group Satellite however says, “Although the work of a few upcoming infrastructure projects have caused hindrances to commuters, the western suburbs has still managed to emerge a popular choice for the home buyers, especially Andheri, Vile Parle and Juhu which are on the radar of luxury home buyers.” He says, the demand has not abated despite the closure of Gokhale Bridge. “There is a big demand for properties in both Andheri east and west. The rental real estate market too has fared well in the recent months. Homebuyers are of the opinion that although the reopening of the bridge has been delayed, it will see the light of the day by the end of the year.”

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