‘Bring back Bandra’s festival at steps’: Ballroom dance, art baithak, stand-up on hold as police, BMC don’t give nod | India News


Bandra has a special wish this season. Residents of this suburb are calling out to Santa with a plea—to “bring back the beloved Festival at the Steps”. The St. Stephen’s Steps leading up to Mount Mary’s church in Bandra were poised once again to host an array of activities — ballroom dancing, art baithak and photo exhibitions to stand-up acts, workshops, and singer-songwriters over six consecutive Saturdays in December and January.
The event had become an annual winter spectacle after the steps underwent a facelift in 2019, transforming from a derelict dumping ground frequented by junkies into a unique, open-air multi-use space, in line with MCGM’s Mumbai Commission for Arts, Music and Culture (MCAMC) policy of creating new urban squares to promote culture and art. However, the excitement around the historic staircase faces an unexpected roadblock in its fifth year.
The police and BMC have refused to grant the festival the necessary permissions after a handful of residents in Mount Mary opposed it, citing concerns over noise and traffic disruption. This ban casts a shadow on the urban renewal project aimed at creating a hub for communities to gather and celebrate. The restoration helmed by architect Alan Abraham and The Bombay Greenway Project as a place-making initiative with support from the then-municipal councillor Asif Zakaria, the BMC, and local ALMs (Advanced Locality Management) had taken two years with the festival activating the revamped mural studded slope.
Maria D’Souza, chairperson of the Mount Mary ALM, says, “We are objecting to any events on the St. Stephen Steps as it is in the middle of a residential area.” In a letter submitted to the BMC and the Bandra Police, D’Souza has urged the authorities to reject any future events at the steps. Calling it a “nuisance”, D’Souza argues that hosting events there disrupts the peace of the locality, citing concerns such as “noise, pollution, traffic snarls, parking issues, and safety concerns for residents.”
Despite the readiness to kick off the festival, permissions from the police and BMC are stuck in limbo. Vinayak Vispute, the BMC H-West ward officer, told TOI, “A representation from the Mount Mary ALM expressing objections to the festival, backed by a few resident signatures, was brought to my office. Subsequently, we engaged with the Bandra Police, who expressed concerns about a potential law and order situation. They have declined to provide the necessary NOCs or permit the festival to proceed. We have to go with what the police say.” Bandra police senior inspector Sanjay Marathe added: “Yes, we fear there could be law and order issues, now it’s up to the BMC to decide.”
In their appeal, the Steps Cultural Foundation, a volunteer-driven nonprofit that was established to better organise the festival, coordinate with artists, maintain the murals and clean the area, clarified: “We adhere to approved sound levels and most attendees are local, which is why there’s been minimal traffic impact over the past four years. To minimise disturbance we’ve also agreed to host the event from 5-8 pm this year instead of the permissible timing till 10pm. BMC classifies it as a road in the Development Plan, open for public use.” Despite gathering over 200 resident signatures in support of the festival, their efforts have proved futile. The Foundation’s attempts to engage in dialogue with the Mount Mary ALM were rebuffed while multiple meetings with the police and BMC have been of no avail.
Anca Abraham, a key organiser of the Festival at the Steps, recounts hosting four successful editions that consistently got support from the local community, police, and BMC while the initiative also secured ‘Place Design Winner’ in the ‘Great Places Awards 2021’, an international competition organised by The Environmental Design Research Association and Project for Public Spaces. “A handful of people cannot wholly be representatives of Mount Mary’s progressive demographic. It is a war of egos and ‘not in my backyard attitude,” she says.
Dwelling on the “inclusive” atmosphere the festival has cultivated since its inception, Abraham adds: “The steps became a platform for like-minded people, regardless of politics, religion, age or social class finding common ground and sharing their talents under the shared sky.”
Contrary to the objections raised by D’Souza, who claims “six buildings” are against the festival, VC Kapoor, a member of the Mount Mary ALM, shared the broader sentiment within the community. “I’m a part of a messaging group that has around 130 residents of the Mount Mary area. And as far as this issue is concerned, it’s only a handful of seven odd people opposing this festival,” says Kapoor drawing a parallel with the Kala Ghoda Festival. “Going by the logic, Mumbai would never have seen any other street festival. The festival at the steps became a source of pride for the locality. How often do people have free access to cultural performances by talented and popular artistes?” Kapoor also points out that the BMC routinely permits the use of the steps for film shoots without complaints.
Disputing the objections, a resident of Mount Mary who did not wish to be named, says: “It was an awesome thing to have happened in our neighbourhood. From my two-year-old daughter to 80-year-old uncles and aunties in our building, everyone had a smile on their face for those few hours. It’s heartbreaking that we’re being robbed of the good vibes that make Bandra what it is.”
While the fate of the steps hangs in the balance, social media has been buzzing with appeals. “The festival has been such an integral part of our December… Missing the sense of community and celebration,” wrote Arpita Sharma, a fan of the festival. “Cannot wait for the Steps activities to begin. This is pure joy for us Bandra folks,” wrote the Gaysi Family, a queer collective.
For a city constantly gasping for public spaces, Abraham is keeping her fingers crossed. “I hope that truth, peace, and community will prevail.”


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