Nightime view of the Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment
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The Hindu, Mumbai, March 27th 2017

The Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment project in South Mumbai has emerged as a model for large scale redevelopment in other cities across India and abroad. It has even become prominent case study in urban renewal in several foreign universities and town planning colleges.

Some of the delegates who visited the project recently included officials and town planners from the municipal corporation of Shimla, the former mayor of Hubli, delegates from the U.S. consulate and students from international universities including Columbia, Barcelona, Leeds and Netherlands.

These students and organisations came to study different aspects of cluster development and to understand aspects such as the complications of receiving consent from tenants for redevelopment, relocation and transit housing, and the possibility of the model being replicated.

Model for old cities

The hill city of Shimla, which is being developed into a smart city, is learning from the Bhendi Bazaar experience; a team of officials are preparing a fool-proof redevelopment plan to submit to the Urban Development Ministry which would partly fund this project. Recently a nine-member delegation led by the city’s joint municipal commissioner, Prashant Sirkek, visited the Bhendi Bazaar project. “The objective of this visit was to examine, gain insights and explore the possibility of implementing the smart city prototype renewal project in Shimla,” Mr. Sirkek said.

The delegates spent two days in understanding the project and, apart from inspecting the dingy lanes of Bhendi Bazaar, they also visited the transit accommodations built by the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT), the organisation behind the plan. “We are competing with 49 other cities to be among the 20 whose smart city plans get central funding,” Mr Sirkek said. “We had heard about the Bhendi Bazaar project but we wanted to see it on the ground. Like Bhendi Bazaar, the central area of Shimla is very dilapidated as structures were built in 1947, and some were also pre independence structures.” That area, he says, is home to Shimla’s largest slum as well as its biggest shopping district. “We wanted to see whether it would practical to redevelop the entire area at one go. We wanted to understand the challenges and benefits. So that tomorrow our redevelopment does not become a liability.”

The former mayor of the Hubli Municipal Corporation, Ashmini Mujjagi, also visited Bhendi Bazaar in the second half of 2015. She was accompanied by a five-member delegation, including the house leader and additional municipal commissioner, and the team was tasked with finding a solution for redevelopment of a market complex in Dharwad, Hubli.

“We studied the model and were keen to implement it in Dharwad,” Ms. Mujjagi said. “There are about 1,600 shops in the market complex built on municipal land there. The buildings were crumbling, the area was congested and it needed to be redeveloped urgently.” The Corporation’s first attempt to gain consent from the current inhabitants failed, as some tenants refused, fearing they would lose their businesses. Ms. Mujjagi hasn’t given up, however, and says she hopes to make another attempt to convince the tenants.

Town planning students

A team of students from the School of Architecture and planning at Chennai’s Anna University also visited recently to understand how the model could be applied to parts of their city that need redevelopment.

“I visited Bhendi Bazaar with my classmates and our teacher,” said Chidamabaram Ganesan, one of the students who was part of the team. “This is the first major cluster redevelopment in India that also involves commercial space redevelopment. Unlike other redevelopment projects, the Bhendi Bazaar one had conducted social impact and environmental analysis, which can be a model elsewhere. It is a people’s project, and it teaches us how to create awareness on redevelopment. This project has become possible due to the unique cluster redevelopment policy of the Maharashtra government and other state governments should have a similar policy.” Mr. Ganesan says that he intends to take the learnings from his trip and apply it to his own research on redeveloping a part of the old city in Chennai called George Town.

Bhendi Bazaar has also found its way into a more global conversation around urban regeneration.

For instance, a group of graduate students from the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation made a trip to India as part of a schedule that also involved trips to countries like China and Brazil. The students were all part of the M.Sc. programme in Real Estate Development.

“The SBUT urban development project is unique and was used as a case study and learning example for the graduate student’s final project,” Sherebanu Lokhandwalla, adjunct professor for the Real Estate Development Programme, wrote in an email.

“The trials and tribulations because of government policy and dense decaying urban fabric created interesting challenges that have been met ongoingly with innovative solutions by SBUT. In my opinion, SBUT will be able to prove on an international stage that ‘doing good is also good business.”