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Mumbai’s 150-year-old Dhobi Ghat to get makeover, washing machines over next 3 years

The Slum Rehabilitation Authority has started a redevelopment project on the 12.5-acre plot, which includes refurbishing the open laundry

mumbai Updated: May 18, 2018 11:09 IST
Geetanjali Gurlhosur
Geetanjali Gurlhosur
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Dhobi Ghat,washing machines
The BMC is not only restoring the grade-3 heritage site, but also introducing washing machines and mechanised drying areas.(HT Fie Photo)

The ubiquitous image of a washer flogging laundry on a slab and drying them on a bamboo-propped clothes line at Dhobi Ghat will soon change for the better.

The iconic Dhobi Ghat, one of the world’s biggest open air laundry sites at Mahalaxmi, is getting a complete makeover in the next three years. The civic body is not only restoring the grade-III heritage site, but will also introduce washing machines and mechanised drying areas.

In the late 19th-century, the British built 731 washing pens and flogging stones, and allotted them to dhobis and their families to wash clothes in the open air laundry measuring 2.5 acres. Today, one lakh clothes are washed and dried daily.

The area now has hundreds of structures built illegally near the pens. According to the licence conditions, cooking in the heritage area is illegal and washing is allowed only during daytime.

Under its drive to revive the Ghat and ensure fire safety, the BMC has been demolishing illegal ground-plus-one structures. Dhobis were sent notices in April to remove all structures within seven days.

“We are removing all encroachments. The residential structures and enclosures in the washing area are a fire hazard. The original look of the 731 stones and more than 2,000 water tanks will be retained after demolition is complete,” said assistant municipal commissioner (G-South ward) Devendrakumar Jain.

Despite receiving flak from the Dhobi community, the BMC has demolished more than 150 structures so far. Vijaya Mahajan, a social worker for the community, said, “These houses were built before 1992. Where will these families go? They have been washing clothes here for generations. The BMC started the demolition drive without giving enough time. Many dhobis are seeking to file a petition against the civic action.”

Santosh Kanaujia, whose family has been in the laundry business for almost a century, said dhobis built sheds so that they can dry clothes during monsoon. But later, they started living and cooking there, said Kanaujia. “The BMC should have surveyed the areas before demolition. A lot has changed since the early days. The age-old laundry business has become unregulated. Many still use wood to heat water,” said Kanaujia.

Many have switched to basic washing machines but not all can afford them. Dhobis said they need mechanised washing and drying facilities and proper drainage system to sustain their Rs100-crore annual business.

Meanwhile, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) has started a redevelopment project on a 12.5-acre plot, which includes refurbishing the open laundry. The joint venture between Omkar Realtors and Piramal Realty, costing Rs4,000 crore, will not only rehabilitate more than 2,100 dhobi and non-dhobi families, but also provide advanced indoor drying facilities by 2021.

Half of the residential project will be redeveloped for sale and commercial purposes. More than 4,500 tenements in neighbouring Sai Baba Nagar and Sane Guruji Nagar have been razed in the past two years.

According to Omkar Realtors, each drying area will be rebuilt indoors at a cost of Rs2 lakh-Rs4 lakh . Devang Varma, director of the company, said, “We will make a vertical, enclosed, sanitised and fully automatic drying area. The design has not yet been finalised. After the revamp, the location will become quite scenic.”

First Published: May 18, 2018 11:08 IST