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On the assembly line

With gothic details adorning its façade and an attractive balustrade running along its terrace, Ram Mansion jumps out amid a clutter of grey apartment blocks.

mumbai Updated: Mar 30, 2011 01:08 IST
Bhairavi Jhaveri

With gothic details adorning its façade and an attractive balustrade running along its terrace, Ram Mansion jumps out amid a clutter of grey apartment blocks.

Located at the junction of Napean Sea Road and Mount Pleasant Road, the mansion is one of six bungalows that will come down by the year-end to make way for residential towers.

Taher Mansion, Laxmi Niwas, Birla School, Maheshwari Mansion and Napean Grange are others, say those familiar with the matter.

A portion of Kilachand Mansion, which is the subject of a family dispute, has also been sold to Orbit Corporation, a construction firm, which plans to build a tower in its place.

“The road’s solitude and greenery have vanished,” said Behram Gamadia, 54, whose family lives in the 4,000-square-metre Gamadia House on Napean Sea Road.

“It will soon resemble a desert.”

As the owner of one of just a handful of bungalows still holding out against redevelopment, Gamadia might be forgiven some hyperbole.

While towers have been gradually replacing Napean Sea Road’s charming bungalows since the 1950s, the pace of redevelopment picked up dramatically in 2007, when realty rates soared.

In that one year alone, building firms bought over six bungalows, tore them down and began replacing them with high-rises. Six more have gone in the subsequent years.

Named after Sir Evan Napean, governor of Bombay between 1812 and 1819, the road was built after the governor’s house moved from Lower Parel to Malabar Hill. It subsequently attracted industrialists and maharajahs, who built palatial homes here.

Now, towers are rising one by one, and Napean Sea Road will have to accommodate more people. Yet the municipal corporation will make a comprehensive plan for the area only in 2014, said a civic official, who did not wish to be named.

“That has been the pitfall of the entire city’s planning,” said Pankaj Joshi, executive director of Urban Research Design Institute, a non-profit group in Kala Ghoda.

“We never plan for the infrastructure before we set out to redevelop properties.”

With a little planning and imagination, the redevelopment might have combined the benefits of modernisation with the charm and street life of the old neighbourhood, say architects.

Among them is Rahul Kadri, who says that the mansions were crumbling and badly needed to be upgraded.

He also points out that Napean Sea Road has a population density of 20,000 people per square kilometre, half that of areas such as Dhobi Talao, and can therefore accommodate more people.

He feels the influx will actually lend an urban buzz to the area, which lacks the bustle of city life.

But he too laments the lack of planning.

“If we build restaurants, shops and market places on the lower levels of these new buildings, we can cater to the new reality,” he says.

As it is, this exclusive address in south Mumbai will soon become what urban development expert Chandrashekhar Prabhu calls “a ghost city.”

“The area’s charm lay in the activity that took place at street level,” he says.

“The ground floors of various buildings had stores, restaurants and banks. In these new constructions, however, for up to forty feet, you can see only parking lots.”

Urban planners also lament the fact that a once-charming area, and one of the city’s most exclusive addresses, is being remade in the uniform image of tens of other localities.

“The neighbourhood’s old-world character will be replaced by the standardised, characterless and cultureless architecture seen across Mumbai — in Worli, Lower Parel and far-flung suburbs, such as Kandivli,” says Joshi.