In the late 1890s, an epidemic of bubonic plague swept through the ports of the British Empire in Asia, dramatising the vulnerability of imperial power in its urban centres of command and control. Colonial cities like Singapore and Bombay served as gateways to regional and global flows of people, money and machines, centralised and accelerated by networks of steam, rail and electricity. Freedom to trade and the rule of law underpinned both business and politics. Within these urban centres, power was shared and contested between colonial rulers, Indian elites and urban populations.
My presentation explores the social and spatial restucturing of early 20th century Bombay in the wake of the plague epidemic. In 1898, the British colonial state established the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) to “clean up” the city, equipped with draconian powers of compulsory acquisition and land clearance to demolish slums, erect new buildings and build broad boulevards. Within a decade, the BIT emerged as the single largest land-owner in colonial Bombay by seizing and plotting vast tracts into new planning “schemes” – though not without costly legal and technical challenges to its eminent domain from landlords and tenants, temples and mosques, and owners of shops, theatres and quarries.
Arbitrated through Victorian ideas of “market value” and techniques of measurement and valuation in colonial courts, urban environments once valued through overlapping chains of title and use were now awarded hypothetical cash values, driving speculation and generalising a new logic and political economy in colonial Bombay. I will examine this transformation in the urban land market through tribunals and court cases fought against the BIT by Indian claimants, appeals against acquisition and for higher compensation which often dragged on for years. These lengthy arguments and novel interpretations of Anglo-Indian land and property law continue to shape urbanisation in the cities of post-colonial South Asia.
The publication of the proposed Greater Mumbai Development Plan for 2034 over the past month has seen a rare coalition emerge to condemn it, from NGOs and political parties, to celebrities and artistes, and in the past week even the BMC’s own Heritage Conservation Committee. Aggrieved residents and alert activists are seeing dark conspiraces in the details of road alignments, land use reservations, and hikes in FSI (Floor Space Index) across the city. While high FSI has become central to the debate on DP 2034, what matters most for Mumbaikars is how policies like FSI, TDR (Transferable Development Rights) and other Development Control Rules (DCR) can be harnessed to create greater public goods and a better urban environment in the next twenty years.
Portrayed from Left to Right as a sell-out to the construction industry, DP 2034 is in fact a paper template, referred to when permissions are sought for development or redevelopment. Together with the DCR, they define the guidelines and recipe book of policies by which land use, building, zoning, amenities and infrastructure are regulated. DP 2034 will only be the third for Greater Mumbai. The first DP was proposed in 1964 and sanctioned in 1967 for a decade until 1977. It was a broad land use plan, a response by engineers and planners who were horrified by the Island City’s runaway population growth and industrial concentration, even after the annexation of the suburbs to Greater Bombay in the fifties, and the statehood of Maharashtra in the sixties.
“I need not dilate on the urgent necessity in the interest of our work of removing temples, where necessary, otherwise than by force. In laying out schemes I exclude every religious edifice that I can. But in the case of Hindoo temples it is not possible to exclude all, for they are sprinkled over the City like pepper out of a castor. And if our schemes are not to suffer, we must treat each case liberally”.
Proceedings of the Trustees for the Improvement of the City of Bombay, Special Meeting, 15 January 1907, T.R. 11
On this week’s festival of Maha Shivratri, devotees annually offer prayers in Mumbai’s oldest temple dedicated to Shiva, the Nageshwar Mandir at Sardar Vallabbhai Patel (SVP) Marg. Popularly known as the “Gol Deval”, few who circle around its swayambhu (self-manifested) ling are aware of how this “Round Temple” came to be in the middle of a busy main road. Known before 1955 as Sandhurst Road, this arterial avenue was named after the Governor who tackled the outbreak of bubonic plague in western India in 1896. Lord Sandhurst created the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) in 1898 to immunise the city in the wake of the epidemic, arming it with draconian powers of acquisition, demolition and redevelopment, to unclog the city’s arteries and increase its circulation by redeveloping its slums, swamps and streets.
‘‘आपले काम सुरळीत पार पडायचे असेल, तर आवश्यक वाटेल तिथे आणि गरज भासल्यास बळाचा वापर करून मंदिरे हटविणे अत्यंत निकडीचे आहे. या आवश्यकतेवर मी आणखी उहापोह करण्याची गरज नाही. मी एखादी योजना आखताना कोणत्याही धार्मिक स्थळाची जागा त्यातून वगळतो. परंतु हिंदू मंदिरांच्या बाबतीत, सर्व स्थळे वगळणे शक्य नाही, कारण ती शहरभर गवतासारखी पसरलेली आहेत. आपल्या योजनांना बाधा यायला नको असेल, तर आपण यातील प्रत्येक स्थळाचा स्वतंत्रपणे विचार करायला हवा.’’
‘मुंबई शहर सुधारणा विश्वस्त संस्थे’च्या (द बॉम्बे सिटी इम्प्रुव्हमेंट ट्रस्ट) विशेष बैठकीच्या कामकाजातून, १५ जानेवारी १९०७, टी.आर.११.
सरदार वल्लभभाई पटेल (एसव्हीपी) मार्गावरील नागेश्वर मंदिर हे मुंबईतील सर्वांत जुने शंकराचे देऊळ आहे. दर वर्षी महाशिवरात्रीच्या सप्ताहात भक्तमंडळी इथे येऊन प्रार्थना करतात. ‘गोल देऊळ’ या नावाने प्रसिद्ध असलेल्या या मंदिरात स्वयंभू शिवलिंगाभोवती प्रदक्षिणा घालणाऱ्या फारच थोड्या लोकांना हे मंदिर गर्दीच्या या मुख्य रस्त्यावर कसे उभे राहिले याची माहिती असेल. १९५५ पूर्वी सँडहर्स्ट रोड या नावाने हा वर्दळीचा रस्ता ओळखला जायचा. पश्चिम भारतात १८९६ साली आलेल्या प्लेगच्या साथीला सरकारच्या वतीने हाताळणाऱ्या गव्हर्नर सँडहर्स्टवरून हे नाव देण्यात आले होते. लॉर्ड सँडहर्स्ट यांनी या साथीच्या पार्श्वभूमीवर १८९८ साली शहराचे निर्जंतणुकीकरण करण्यासाठी बॉम्बे इम्प्रुव्हमेंट ट्रस्टची (बीआयटी) स्थापना केली. शहराच्या वाहतूक मार्गांमध्ये मोकळीक आणण्यासाठी व झोपडपट्ट्या, दलदलीची ठिकाणे, रस्ते यांचा पुनर्विकास करून हे मार्ग अधिक प्रवाही करण्यासाठी या विश्वस्त संस्थेला अधिग्रहण, पाडकाम व पुनर्विकासाचे राक्षसी अधिकार देण्यात आले.
Neera Adarkar, ed., The Chawls of Mumbai: Galleries of Life (Gurgaon: imprintOne, 2011)
Can built forms have their own subjectivity? Architects, geographers and urban planners would surely answer this question in the affirmative. By contrast, most historians and social scientists have long viewed all non-human artefacts as “socially constructed”, and the structure and agency of the physical environment has remained weakly conceptualised, even in urban studies.
Given the number of published works on the deindustrialisation of Mumbai and the decline of its textile industry – including an award-winning oral history of mill workersi co-authored by the editor of this new anthology on chawls – it is significant that the most ubiquitous form of working-class housing in the Mumbai had not yet been studied in any depth until nowii. Galleries of Life is a salutary exploration of the history, architecture, culture and politics of chawls which creatively examines the tension between historical nostalgia and contemporary urban change in Mumbai.
Buildings can nurture, constrain, limit and transform those who inhabit or pass through them. Generic typologies mass produced on an industrial scale – apartments, tenements, chawls, skyscrapers and slums – are generative of their peculiar milieus and practices. Like other forms of housing, Mumbai’s iconic chawls are basically physical containers which give shelter and provide shape to social reproduction. But urban housing and the built environment can “act back” on communities and society. Housing as social space can signify a bundle of rights and claims, a locus of legal and property relations, a stage for politics and performance, and a set of resources for survival and mobility.
This paper addresses the pedagogic and disciplinary challenges posed by the effort to understand urban spatial practices and institutional histories in Bombay/Mumbai, and other postcolonial South Asian cities. Many cities in the region, such as Chandigarh and Dhaka were designed as iconic of the abstract space of the nation-state.
The dominance of the nationalist spatial imagination in the understandings of public space, citizenship, and the metropolitan environment – combined with the functionalist perception of architecture and spatial practice – have resulted in an urban pedagogy that regards the city only as a technological or physical artefact. Architectural education and urban pedagogy is therefore unable to address the diversity of social-spatial formations in the city, and its political regime of predatory development, tactical negotiation, and blurry urbanism. To better understand this new regime, we require a collaborative urbanism that treats the city as an extra-curricular space by which we can reconstruct existing institutional frameworks.
Drawing on the work of CRIT (Collective Research Initiatives Trust), Mumbai, this papers explores the post-industrial landscapes of the Mumbai Mill and Port Lands as a case study in two extracurricular research projects, which grew into urban design and community planning interventions in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, where urban spaces became the arena for re-imagining the relations between knowledge production, institutional boundaries, and civic activism on which nationalism has imposed a long estrangement.
In Mumbai, public awareness of urban arts and heritage has experienced a significant revival in the past ten years in the same historical moment when manufacturing industries have closed and factories emptied throughout Greater Mumbai. Heritage discourse and conservation practice have only implicitly acknowledged this economic context. Since the Bombay Textile Strike of 1982-3, entire working-class communities across the city have been retrenched and dispersed in the Mill and Dock Lands of central Mumbai, the chemical and engineering factories and industrial estates in suburban Mumbai, and across the Metropolitan Region.
With job losses going into tens of lakhs, and uncertain growth prospects for Mumbai, several years ago the media and civic elite began speaking of the “death of the city” they once knew, whereas planners and academics eagerly awaited the birth of a new “global city”. However one described this restructuring of the city’s economy, it is clear that manufacturing has declined in value compared to the new service industries, not just in Mumbai but in big cities throughout the world. The post-industrial landscapes of London’s Docklands and New York’s Lower Manhattan are oft-cited symbols of this change monstrous, gleaming high-rise districts dominated by banking, finance, and white-collar services. In today’s urban economy, the making and marketing of immaterial signs has replaced the production of durable goods as the primary circuit of wealth creation.
The concepts and practices of cultural heritage, architectural conservation, and public arts, (whether they realise it or not) are enmeshed in this new economy of image production. While buildings are still very much made of brick and mortar (or steel and RCC), the production of images of the urban built environment is one of the intangible, high-value commodities of the global city. Whether in the space-age absurdity of Hafeez Contractor’s garden city in Powai, or the sepia-tinted romanticism of the South Bombay heritage enthusiasts, the value of a building has less to do with its physical qualities than its iconic presence as an object of consumption. So it is not difficult to explain the phenomenal growth of concepts and practices of heritage conservation in Mumbai.