On Monday, State Ports Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil suggested to the Central Government that Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT), which owns 1,800 acres of land in the heart of Mumbai, move out of the city. On Wednesday, the debate over whether port land should be handed over to the city to ease its housing and space crunch began all over again.
Hindustan Times had reported on Wednesday that Vikhe-Patil had written to Union Shipping Minister G.K. Wasan with the suggestion.
Shifting the port would free up an area 30 times the size of Nariman Point along 14.5 km of the coast from Colaba to Wadala and help tackle the city’s housing crisis, though it’s unclear if property prices would fall.
It would also mean the end of the 135-year-old Mumbai Port legacy that spurred the city’s growth and is integral to its character.
Across the world, Vikhe-Patil told Hindustan Times, ports are shifting out of cities. “In Mumbai, instead of shutting slowly, the port is getting a new container terminal that will add to congestion. MbPT should consider Mumbai’s space and housing problems and hand over its land to the state.”
Sharada Dwivedi, historian and member of the Mumbai Docklands Redevelopment Forum (MDRF), agreed. MDRF is a group of city planners and architects opposing further development at MbPT.
“Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust was cleared on the assurance that MbPT operations would be wound down and its land given to the city,” she said.
Dwivedi pointed out Vikhe-Patil did not say how the government would handle the transition. “I fear that the huge tracts of freed-up land will be handed over to land sharks. That’s what happened with mill lands,” she said.
However, urban planner and executive director, Urban Design Research Institute, Pankaj Joshi did not think that port activities necessarily clash with the city’s development.
“There must be a rationale to handing over the land. Mumbai is a port city, so the port cannot be separated from it. Across the world, ports and cities share a symbiotic relationship,” Joshi said.
MbPT trustee and Nationalist Congress Party legislator Prakash Binsale felt the state is being too ambitious. “About 19,000 people work for the MbPT. Has the government thought of them? There is no excess land with MbPT,” he said. However, the official estimate is that MbPT uses 836.09 acres sub-optimally, in the form of open storage areas, for instance.
Binsale said 80 per cent of the bulk cargo MbPT handles, such as grain, is used by the city. Traffic to and from the new terminal, he added, would run through a dedicated internal corridor and at night, so city traffic would not be affected.