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Land locked

Standing on the terrace of one of Bhendi Bazaar’s buildings, it is near-impossible to see the road below. At ground level, dilapidated buildings (some over 150 years old) stand claustrophobically close to each other, reports Mini Pant Zachariah.

mumbai Updated: Sep 28, 2009 01:10 IST
Mini Pant Zachariah

Standing on the terrace of one of Bhendi Bazaar’s buildings, it is near-impossible to see the road below. At ground level, dilapidated buildings (some over 150 years old) stand claustrophobically close to each other.

Innumerable alterations to the buildings have resulted in all manner of structures protruding onto the road.

And all the cars, motorcycles, cycles, scooters, taxis and handcarts parked on the road make walking around a constant battle for space.

All this is set to change if and when the Rs 1,500-crore plan for the Bhendi Bazaar makeover kicks in.

The plan is to redevelop, along modern lines, over 250 buildings and about 1,800 business establishments spread over 18 acres of land.

Two-, three- and four-storeyed structures will be replaced with multi-storeyed towers. There will be 60-ft-wide roads, ample basement parking spaces and open spaces as well.

And there will be 7.5 lakh sq ft of real estate in the heart of south Mumbai where residential property prices range from Rs 16,000 to Rs 24,000 per sq ft.

But Murtuza Baker, a partner of SMB Architects, architects for the project, wants to clarify: “This is an upliftment project, unlike the redevelopment projects elsewhere. The Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust, the developers of the project, with Abde Ali Bhanpurawala as its secretary, is clear that the makeover should lead to the physical as well as spiritual upliftment of the 4,000-odd families who live here.”

Most of the families are tenants. But regardless of the area they currently occupy, they will get ownership of at least a 350-sq-ft flat. If their current flats are bigger, the new ones will be commensurate with the area they occupy now.

This move will be made possible by the 250-odd buildings being bought off their individual owners. So far about half the landowners have agreed to the plan. Given that the present tenants of the building pay notional amounts of Rs 200 per month or so, the building owners would rather get their land’s worth and move on.

“The state government’s policy on cluster development, popularly known as the 33(9) clause, has worked in our favour. If we get 70 per cent of landowners to sell, we can go ahead with the plan,” explains Baker.

The residents here are understandably ecstatic. Exults Mufaddal Tambewala, who has lived here all his life, “This will be a paradise in the middle of a concrete jungle.”

Since Bhendi Bazaar is a Muslim-dominated area, ownership of the flats will likely remain within the community. In the new plan, owners will be free to sell their flats — but residents are sceptical about finding non-Muslim buyers.

As one of the residents said, on condition of anonymity, “People prefer to be with their own community. A Jain, for instance, would not like to live in a building with meat-eating persons. So, I doubt if many non-Muslims would like to live in this area.”

Besides, points out the owner of a leather showroom, “Muslims find it difficult to buy a flat in most housing societies. So there will be a huge demand for these flats if they are redeveloped well.”

Baker does some straight talking: “Though there are commercial establishments that are owned by Gujaratis and Marwaris along with Muslims, almost 98 per cent of the residential area is occupied by Muslims, of whom 80 per cent are Bohris. Since charity begins at home, yes, Muslims will predominantly occupy the place. But anybody who pays the market price will be able to buy a flat in the area.”