Artist’s impression of Bhendi Bazaar after redevelopment

By Anjuli Bhargava
From the Sunday Business Standard, October 30 2016

Perhaps the only object of beauty in the 16.6 acres of Mumbai’s Bhendi Bazaar is the Raudat Tahera, a memorial mausoleum for the spiritual leaders of the Dawoodi Bohra community, with the full inscription of the the Quran in gold and precious stones. Made out of marble, the structure attracts community members from around the world to pay respects to their spiritual leaders.

The area – named during the British rule as “Behind the Bazaar”, where the “bazaar” refers to Crawford Market – has seen little change since its first settlers, mostly migrant workers who live as tenants, came here in 1800. It is full of character with several crowded, narrow streets and hordes of quaint, little shops and vendors in every nook and cranny. You have to make your way on foot as narrow, poorly-maintained roads make it impossible for traffic to move.

With a lone surviving tree, the rest of the Bhendi Bazaar area surrounding the mausoleum is anything but beautiful. For almost a hundred years now, around 25,000 residents – mostly from the Bohra Muslim community – have been living here in cramped quarters. About 80 percent of the 250-odd dilapidated buildings they call home have been declared unfit for living.

A visit to the area gives you a glimpse into their poor living conditions. The buildings are dirty, shaky and decrepit. Shared and overused toilets add to the squalor. Although many of the residents are prosperous, apathy and an acceptance of their fate has led to these families continuing to reside in these woeful conditions.

But this could soon be a thing of the past. The cluster redevelopment policy was announced in Maharashtra in 2009. But it was only in 2015, with the help of the new government in the state, that the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust, formed by the community to finance and lead the redevelopment, managed to, after years of trying, get the required approvals to start construction.

Work on redevelopment is now in full force. To begin with, temporary quarters for families and commercial businesses have been built nearby. A little over 1,500 families have already been moved to these quarters that will eventually house 3,200 families.

For the tenants, it’s a boon of sorts. They have clean, airy, spacious quarters after years of living in apartments so worn out that a hard knock ran the risk of bringing them down like a house of cards. The new facilities have been provided free of cost. Many tenants say they are quite happy with the transit facilities, arguing that these are good enough for them.

For redevelopment, the area has been divided into nine sub-clusters. Each sub-cluster will have two buildings. The roads will be widened and parking facilities for around 3,500 vehicles are being created. A host of green areas are also planned. Around 700 trees and shrubs are proposed to be planted in the area that currently makes do with that one tree.

The redevelopment is expected to cost around Rs 4,200 crore and is, for now, being fully funded by the trust, which is funded by the million-odd community members. In the future, a developer will be brought on board through bids.

According to the plan, the ground floor and the first two floors of each building will house commercial establishments. The floors above will have two-bedroom apartments with elevators leading to these floors. The first sub-cluster is expected to be ready by 2018.

The project aims to be “resource neutral”, so it will have its own solid waste and sewage treatment plant, solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems and a well-planned garbage disposal system.

Four additional buildings, with 1,500 flats in all, will be built and sold at market rates to recover the amount spent on the redevelopment. The going rate currently is 15,000 to 20,000 per square foot, given the central location of the area that falls near the railway station and is opposite JJ hospital.

For the existing tenants, the redevelopment is a bonanza as they will be made the owners of their new apartments. Not only will they have a cleaner, greener and safer area to live in, they will also be given the new apartments free of cost. The expenses will be recovered through the proceeds from the sale of the additional buildings.

This is the first cluster redevelopment in the country and it is expected to set in motion similar redevelopments. Praveen Pardeshi, principal secretary to the Maharashtra chief minister says that areas like Chandni Chowk in Delhi and the older parts of cities like Hyderabad and Kolkata can take a leaf out of this redevelopment project once it is complete. “It will provide a roadmap for similar brownfield redevelopments,” he says.

The chief minister’s war room in Mumbai has included the Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment as one of its key projects and is closely monitoring its progress and helping with clearances.

The redevelopment is likely to rob the area of some of its old-world character and “mohalla” feel, but it may be a small price to pay for safer and cleaner living conditions for its residents.

Mumbai’s Bhendi Bazaar today