By Neeraj Nanda
MELBOURNE, 17 July: It’s 1.9-hectare site and one part is iconic Little India, the only Indian prescient in Victoria with about 30 plus ethno specific businesses. The place which took about 20 years to develop with a unique subcontinental ambiance, today faces an uncertain future and the traders confused over what is in store for them.
The Development Victoria on behalf of the Victorian Government has initiated a redevelopment plan with six segments including the now Little India area; “construction is expected to commence in 2023 and could be staged over a number of years”.
The plan is expected to kick-off, according to a Community Feedback Form if a developer makes an “expression of interest” (July 2019) followed by a staggered process with “Request for proposal” (October 2019), “Appointment of successful developer/consortia” (Mid-2020) and “Commencement of community consultation on design” (Late-2020) and the “Commencement of construction” (From 2023).
A group of Little India traders who went for a “Community Information Session” on 17 July 2019 at the Dandenong Council Centre were explained this proposed timeline by Yogita Silva of Development Victoria.
“What you want to see in the development we want to know”, said Yogita.
Development Victoria says, “Development Victoria acknowledges the social, cultural and economic significance of Little India prescient in central Dandenong.”
“Development Victoria is committed to working with local businesses, traders and the local community during the process. Furthermore, Development Victoria is seeking for developers to allocate spaces for Indian retail and cultural offerings in the new precinct,” it says.
When SAT asked Yogita, if there will be a specified section designated as Little India in the proposed development, she said, “Don’t forget it’s going to be a private developer.”
It is this issue that has made the proposed development plans rather hazy for the Little India traders. Will “Indian retail and cultural offerings” mean a designated Little India or Indian cultural prescient?
Mr. Manoj Kumar, former ALP candidate for Forest Hill said at the information session, “ The Little India prescient heritage should remain here and the interest of the traders looked after as they are the ones who contributed to this heritage.”
Mr. Sharma who runs two successful Calcutta Sweets outlets in Little India says, “It is not that I just want a place for my individual businesses but want Little India prescient as an exclusive designated place in the new development.”
“I have spent a lifetime here, give employment to many people and have invested big amounts which have made us successful but in a situation where I am separated from the united culturally specific Little India, our identity loss will hurt our business also. I am not against development but want to preserve Little India as a whole,” Mr. Sharma told the SAT.
Rashid Sultan, a regular shopper at Little India says, “It will seize to exist if the private sector is allowed to have their say in the name of redevelopment.”
The shop owners say business has already started to drop after the redevelopment announcement. They fondly remember when many years back the present Premier Hon Daniel Andrews, was the Leader of Opposition, came to Little India to support the traders and save the Indian prescient’s exclusive cultural personality. Later grants were announced which remains partly unspent.
Vasan Srinivasan, Confederation of Indian Associations President told Dandenong Star Journal, “This is going to destroy many lives of Indian traders and those working for those traders.
What was the use of spending $ 500,000 to decorate it when Little India is going to be wiped off?”
But the Dandenong MP Gabrielle Williams told the same publication, “we will work with local businesses and the community every step of the way as we deliver the next phase of this exciting project.”