Facing Closure: Eviction Threat Looms Over Elephanta Shopkeepers

By Snehal Mutha | Published: January 24, 2024 08:14 PM2024-01-24T20:14:03+5:302024-01-24T20:15:55+5:30

For 20 years, Raveena Chauhan's day has begun with opening her shop at 9 a.m. and closing at 6 ...

Facing Closure: Eviction Threat Looms Over Elephanta Shopkeepers | Facing Closure: Eviction Threat Looms Over Elephanta Shopkeepers

Facing Closure: Eviction Threat Looms Over Elephanta Shopkeepers

For 20 years, Raveena Chauhan's day has begun with opening her shop at 9 a.m. and closing at 6 p.m. It's a routine ingrained in her life, as much as the rhythm of the tides around Elephanta island off Mumbai. The money she makes from the shop is a silver lining for her family's survival. Now Raveena's life is on the edge as Maharashtra Maritime Board has ordered local shopkeepers like Chauhan to vacate within eight days, raising fears of losing their livelihoods and uprooting their families. The Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) has ordered 83 local shopkeepers, including Chauhan, on a stretch of 1 Km of Shetbandar jetty to vacate their shops within eight days or face the consequences. Raveena said, " I can't sleep since I got the news. My daughters are receiving education because of this shop, with this gone, my husband's salary won't be enough to afford education."

Raveena has two daughters, both reside 90 km from Elephanta Island, with a relative for education purposes. Raveena and his husband’s income approximately tallies between 12- 14 k, every month she sends 5K to her daughters. Raveena had to send her daughters away as the island do not have a single school. Children are either sent to live with their relatives, or the locals migrate to nearby places like Uran and Nhava in Navi Mumbai. Like Raveena, many are supporting their children's education and their livelihood through income from shops. The shopkeepers, who have been running their businesses for over 50 years at Shetbandar Jetty, say they will be left without a source of income if they are forced to close their shops. The local shopkeepers come from the three hamlets of Gharapuri village (Elephanta Island) – Morabandar, Rajbandar and Shetbandar. It houses around 1200 people and at least the island has 100+ shops. Out of which, MMD has been looking forward to demolishing 83 shops made of iron sheets, tarpaulin, and bamboo. The island’s residents depend on tourism for an income – selling hats, sunglasses, souvenirs and eatables. However, Gharapuri falls short of providing employment opportunities.

An Uran resident, Smita (name changed), who is in her 60s, said, "Money from these shops is meagre but good enough to cover a few of your bills. My husband is paralysed, and these shops help me afford his medicine. I can't completely rely on my son as he has his own family to be taken care of. So this business is my lifeline and it should not be cut." She migrated to Uran, as the island did not have proper healthcare facilities. She also added, "My granddaughters are employed but there are no jobs." Like Raveena and Smita, many elephants island locals feel for basic facilities like education and healthcare, they have to migrate to nearby regions, but starting life outside the island is not affordable. Lack of employment and high living costs force them to come back to the island. Raveena moved back within 2 years. The local shopkeepers through Gharapuri Gram Panchayat have requested MMB to implement a rent system but their requests have been ignored for years. "Since 2015 we appealed to the Court to place a rent system for 65 shops, everything was finalised, something went wrong and it is still not executed, "said Girish Garate, a cap shop owner. Garate worked two years outside the island but barely could meet ends. So, he joined his mother's business. He has apprehensions about what is going to happen next. Some residents in the area point out that individuals with shops in upward areas raise concerns about those located near the jetty. The issue is compounded by competition, as many shops offer similar products, resulting in a decline in each other's customer base. This competition serves as another factor contributing to complaints directed at the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB). The total count of shops has risen from 65 to approximately 100 since 2015. Upsarpanch Baliram Thakur of Gharapuri Gram Panchayat echoes the shopkeepers' anxieties. "Tourism sustains us. We ask only to be included in the planned beautification. We are not against development, but tell us what's next. We want to know what they expect from us so that we can support the authorities." Thakur also indicated that they have sought the help of MP Shrirang Barne and talks will be soon initiated on the matter with Dr. Manik G Gursal, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MMB.

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