Shrikanth Swaminathan is livid. It’s 3 pm on a hot Saturday afternoon and the software professional is baking under the mid-day sun on the hot concrete pavement outside Dreams Mall in Bhandup, with 100 others for company. On any given day at any of the better-known malls in Mumbai, Swaminathan and his motley crew would have blended in with the rest of the weekend shoppers. Not today and not here, though. Swaminathan and the others have plonked themselves down outside the north-east suburban Mumbai mall precisely because there is nothing inside: no power supply since Thursday, no water supply for over a year and — no surprises there — no sign of even window shoppers.
“We have been taken for a ride,” says Swaminathan, as his fellow picketers nod in agreement. That’s quite an understatement, given that shopkeepers have been using generators since November 2014 thanks to the erratic power supply at the mall. Swaminathan says he regrets buying his 500 sq ft shop for the princely sum of ₹30 lakh in 2009. “It was a great location and I thought I was making a sound business decision,” he says. Now, he and 1,092 other storeowners have been left to fend for themselves.
An HDIL project, Dreams Mall is built over a total area of 8.5 lakh sq ft and was completed in 2008. Not including the common area, nearly 5 lakh sq ft of space at the mall is divided equally between the developer and the shopkeepers, who say the company assured them that a society would be formed to ensure that the mall was well-maintained.
“Nothing has been done towards that end over the past five years and the company has now stopped responding to our calls and emails,” says Swaminathan. The mall by itself paints a very sorry picture. While it has since shut down, during our last visit a little over a week ago, we found little indication of business as usual, with most of the shops occupied by chartered accountants or coaching centres. The place was run-down, messy and dusty, with its small food court and multiplex forlorn and empty even on a weekend. Just about 40% of the shops were occupied and non-payment of electricity dues had plunged the place into darkness.
Though HDIL officials declined to comment, the mall occupants — who are struggling to pay back their bank loans — make no bones about the fact that they feel shortchanged