In Focus

Colaba Police book supermarket owners for cheating, intimidation

By Manu Shrivastava

A case of overcharging and cheating has been filed against the owners of Shiv Plaza Super Market, a grocery store at Wodehouse Road in Colaba. In the case, the Colaba Police have reportedly also written to the BMC to cancel the store’s licence in the wake of the complaint followed by a series of others allegedly charging the store owners with bill manipulation. The police action has, besides fetching justice to the aggrieved buyers, averted a potential law and order problem that could well be triggered owing to situation.

Shiv Plaza Super Market at Wodehouse Road, Colaba shut down after the Colaba
Police booked the owners for cheating customers and breaking lockdown rules
Till 28 May, Colaba hit critically by the COVID-19 pandemic, was left with totally 29 buildings ‘sealed’ for registering COVID-positive cases and almost all the slums of the zone. The zones that have been ‘contained’ include:
Sunder Nagari, Dhobi Chawl, Azad Nazari, Darya Nagar, Lala Nigam Road (Colaba Market), Machchimar Nagar, Ganesh Murti Nagar 1,2 and 3, Shiv Shakti Nagar, Garib Janta Nagar, Batliwala Chawl, Mahatma Phule Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar and Geeta Nagar

As cases of COVID-19 have been on the rise in the Colaba Market area, Dhobi Chawl and the slums adjoining, the entire area including the connecting by-lanes has been cordoned off for public transport.  With vegetable vendors unable to sell their wares to the locals, the few open far and between have been hiking prices to unimaginable levels.

Cooperative stores like Sahakari Bhandar with outlets near Regal Cinema and at Colaba Post Office sell fruits, vegetables and other essential grocery items to buyers at fixed prices. With small grocery shops in the entire Colaba Market zone forced to shut shop to avoid the ‘crowding’ and the concurrent spread of COVID-19, the buyers have been left with little option but to surge to ‘Supermarkets’ or stores that have been converted into ‘mini markets’ to provide essentials. Little wonder then that, while shopping, these have been taking advantage of the situation during the COVID- 19 lockdown!

After a complaint was filed by Western Railway officer and Badhwar Park resident Ravinder Bhakar, the Colaba police registered a case against Bhagwanji Lakhamshi Shah and Wadilal Lakhamshi Shah, owners of Shiv Plaza Super Market, on 21 May.

The owners have been booked under Section 188 of IPC (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) Section 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) Section 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), Section 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), Section 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), Section 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) Section 506 (criminal intimidation) and Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. The owners of the Supermarket could not be reached for their comments till the time this report was filed, owing to the store being shut down.

Senior Inspector, Colaba Police Station Shivaji Phadtare has managed to avert a law and order situation in Colaba
“At a time like this, when the entire nation is united in fighting COVID-19, it is sad that a few have been taking advantage of the situation,” says Senior Inspector, Colaba Police Station Shivaji Phadtare. In a letter dashed to the BMC assistant municipal commissioner, A Ward of the BMC, Mr Phadtare maintained that following preliminary investigations, it appears that the store owners, taking advantage of the lockdown, had cheated the public and violated government orders. “If anybody is cheated, has been overcharged for essential goods or has been delivered goods of suspect quality or measure, they must inform the police. After all, even in the midst of a lockdown, we are there to uphold the law.”

“Such immediate action by the police is truly welcome,” says Colaba resident and collegian Sheetal Waghmare. “In times like these, when the BMC staff, police, doctors are testing positive while fighting for us in the frontlines, it’s shameful to have such people taking advantage of the situation,” she says. “Every time, I go to buy anything in the market, I keep an eye for a policeman nearby just in case it’s needed. With the police around, nobody dares to overcharge or cheat, I’ve figured. After a few bad experiences with some rogue shopkeepers, I’ve learnt my lesson,” adds Sheetal.

Mother Vaidehi nods in agreement and adds, “This time, during the entire two-month lockdown period, so many chemists have been making a killing charging a fortune for sanitisers, masks, all mandatory but sold without MRP or packaged prices either.” Thankfully, with the government placing a ceiling on the prices of sanitisers, things have come under control.

“At a time like this, it’s impossible to ensure law and order is achieved. With so many trying to take advantage of the situation, by either selling off old stuff in this time of shortage or overcharging or simply cheating in the billing process, it’s impossible for the police to reach out everywhere. They have done a commendable job despite their shortcomings,” says travel consultant and Electric House resident Francis Pereira.

The presence of the Colaba Police sleuths in the zone ensures that shopkeepers and store-owners do not overcharge or swindle residents. After all, in the pandemic, the processes of legal redress, across India and particularly so, in ultra-local zones like Colaba, have come to a halt. And, in times like these, the presence of police personnel and swift action on their part works as the perfect deterrence for potential crime.

The next time around, anyone overcharges you or tries to bully you into buying some sub-standard goods citing shortage or the lockdown, you know who to call. Dial 100! They’re there watching your back.