Khairani Road: a tale of two worlds

In the early hours of Monday, 42-year-old Salim Hashmi awoke to the sound of fire engines and ambulances zooming past his biryani shop on Khairani Road, Saki Naka. Barely 500 m away, a fire had erupted from a short circuit at Bhanu Farsan Shop, charring 12 young migrant workers to death.

Khairani Road: a tale of two worlds

He remembers trying to wedge his way into the unit, with little success. It was like an old memory unspooling for him; he had witnessed something similar over three decades ago. “In 1985, when I was still in school, a boiler burst in a factory on Khairani Road, killing nearly 50 workers. Since then, we have heard of small fires and accidents in the units, but nothing as big as now.”

Bustling corridor

At any rate, there is little breathing space in the area, with small units and large factories standing cheek-by-jowl. Khairani Road connects the western suburbs of Andheri-Saki Naka and Jogeshwari to the central areas of Kurla and Ghatkopar. It is also a bustling manufacturing corridor, connecting the small industrial units to large global markets. The locals boast of how everything, “from A to Z”, is manufactured and recycled here.

“You will find everything under the sun,” said Fida Hussain, 25, a migrant worker from Basti, Uttar Pradesh, who clocks in 12 hours a day in a turner-making factory. “From scrap material to garments, machine spare parts to wafers, plastic bottles to bricks, paints, chemicals.”

Khairani Road: a tale of two worlds

Jitendra Pandey, a worker from Deogarh, Jharkhand, says the goods produced here are sold as brands in Dubai, Sri Lanka and Europe. Mr. Pandey, who works in a denim factory at DPK Compound, says “they are of very high quality.”

According to rough estimates, 50,000 units are spread across the 1.5-km stretch that joins Asalpha and Powai, and the 30 lanes that the main road cuts through. Each of these lanes has multiple compounds, which further house around 100 units each, according to an area map created by Aajeevika Bureau, a not-for-profit organisation working on migrant rights and services. However, municipal authorities fear the numbers could be higher. “Khairani Road is a very complex area. Most of it is on the collector’s land. It is neither purely industrial nor fully residential,” said Ajit Kumar Ambi, Assistant Municipal Commissioner of L-ward (Kurla).

Mr. Ambi has sought a thorough investigation of the industrial area with the Fire Department and the police following the Tansa Pipeline Project demolitions undertaken in the area in the second week of January. “It is quite difficult to estimate the number of units in Khairani Road. As per our records, 60,000 units have been registered across the L-Ward,” he said.

Contrasting skyline

Piercing the sky, right behind these packed single and multi-storey units, are the relatively recent real estate projects. The contrasting skyline, with the Nahar Amrit Shakti towers visible in the background of these dilapidated factory structures, has sparked curiosity and concern.

“People often refer to Nahar as ‘heaven’ and Khairani Road as ‘hell’,” said Saud Malik, president of Thaffuz-e-Insaniyat Foundation, an organisation that works on education and safety in the neighbourhood. “This is probably because of the high density of population on Khairani Road. There is much more open space in Nahar.”

The lack of open space, poorly planned working units, and hazardous working and living conditions inside the factories, which were among the crucial reasons for the death of the 12 workers at Bhanu Farsan Shop, remains the everyday reality for most informal labourers. “In more than 80% of the cases, the workers live in the units,” said Mohammad Sadiq, 30, who migrated to Mumbai from Gonda district, Uttar Pradesh, two years ago. “This arrangement is profitable for the owners because they do not offer compensation to the workers for working overtime. Also, it is a form of security for their factories at night.”

‘The safest spot’

Khairani Road: a tale of two worlds

Amidst the industrial smoke, stench of chemicals and the fear of a boiler burst, there is one silver lining for the residents: they believe the area to be the “safest spot in all of Mumbai.” “In the wake of the 1992 riots, the area became a safe space for Muslims. There were no concretised roads till 1995-96. The area developed after the communities began to settle in and call it home,” said 32-year-old paan shop owner Abdul Khalid. Sahil Hashmi (32), a painting contractor who was born here, says the Muslim-majority area comprises migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Kerala. Mr. Hashmi and his brother had set up a vada pav shop a few years ago, but had to shut it down within two months because there were no takers. “We replaced it with a kebab and biryani stall. And we have orders running into the wee hours.”

If there is one thing these disasters cannot erase at Khairani Road, it is this spirit of entrepreneurship.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 7:30:27 PM |

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