Until a few years ago when locals in Sewri wanted to catch a glimpse of the graceful breed of lesser flamingoes, they had to walk up to the jetty — a 20-minute walk from Sewri station. Now, all they do is stand at the windows of their homes located at obscene heights and gape at the travelling pink patch; often flamingoes come as close as their window sills, Sewri locals tell us.
This is just one advantage of the slum redevelopment scheme that was floated by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government in the mid 90s and altered the face of this mill land area of Mumbai. Many locals jumped at the chance and moved from smaller housing societies into plush high-rises at rates that, according to Mumbai standards, were as low as Rs 4,000 per square foot.
The 22-floor high Rushabh Towers that was constructed in 1994 is the harbinger of this big change. Top-floor residents of this tower, Dr. Devidas and Swati Jatkar, who moved from a nearby society into Rushabh Towers eight-odd years ago are thrilled with their decision. “The rates of flats in our building have now shot up from Rs 4,000 to Rs 10,000 per square foot. Who would have thought that flats in Sewri would one day cost so much? I would have bought two if I had known!” says Dr. Devidas Jatkar, a practising dentist born and brought up in Sewri who has watched the area transform drastically before his eyes.
The slums have long disappeared from Sewri; only a small patch needs to be cleaned up, but that too will soon be taken over by builders, the Jatkars inform us. Mills like Cotton Mills and Swan Mills have given way to new residential constructions like Dosti Flamingos and Ashoka House (but many of these constructions have preserved the mills’ chimneys as an acknowledgment to the mill era). Sewri’s newest landmarks are also these residential towers; all you have to tell a cabbie when he asks where in Sewri would you wish to go is: “Woh sab bada tower hai na, udhar jaana hai.”
Ranjan Raut, a civil engineer and contractor of Rushabh Towers, who also owns a transit accommodation on the ground floor of the building, tells us about how many more reputed builders are expected to be taking over the last few slum patches in Sewri. “Until now it was unheard of for builders to chalk out big projects in Sewri,” Raut tells us.
Sewri has its own identity today; it is no more recognised as the ‘area near Wadala’ and that makes Sewri residents proud. Until now it was known only for the sprawling stretch of shanties and a few landmarks located in its surrounding areas — Sewri jetty, Marine College of Engineering, the long stretch of godowns and warehouses, and the BBD chawls.
The profile of the residents being pulled in by these roomy flats is lending Sewri a status it didn’t garner until now. “There are so many lawyers, doctors and judges living in our building today,” says Ruby Seth, 21st floor resident of Rushabh Towers, who moved from posh Colaba to Sewri in search of a spacious house at an affordable rate. But this newfound clout is also leading to a rise in vegetable prices and all other rates, Dr Swati Jatkar tells us.
But the lack of cleanliness in the area is what irks her much more than soaring rates of vegetables. “The constructions are leading to a lot of dust and grime in the locality, and the BMC is not stringent with cleaning out the trash — a big cause for rising malaria cases in Sewri,” she says.
Sewri, as much as it is going through a major facelift, a part of this locality still remains trapped in a time capsule. As you walk along the road where all the high-rises stand tall, across from them you find a row of shops that belong to another period circa 1980s. Sweet marts selling multi-coloured sweet meats in glass barnis, the neighbourhood darji store lining a bejewelled
salwar-kameez and kids eagerly waiting around a farsan stall for piping-hot namkeens in exchange of some loose change. The pace is slow; people have time to linger; and the stillness is addictive.
A weekly column that looks at how a pioneering or iconic structure has changed the face of a locality