Mumbai: ‘Social skyline’ set to change

Almost five years since the plan was mooted, the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority began demolishing the Bombay Development Directorate Chawl buildings in Naigaon. With the BDD chawl enclave in Worli also undergoing redevelopment that was launched in August last year, the iconic BDD chawls, the city’s biggest chawl enclaves, which have been part of Mumbai’s history for over a century, will soon make way for skyscrapers.

Housing minister Jitendra Awhad said that the redevelopment of BDD chawls would not just change the physical skyline but also the social skyline of Mumbai. “BDD crawls have a special place in Mumbai’s history. Be it Worli, Naigaon, or Lower Parel, they have been home to all social, political movements and literary movements too. So we aren’t just pulling down chawls. We are giving those who have lived in the homes a new home and new life too. Every BDD chawl is historic. Many people tried but the redevelopment of BDD chawls was stuck for 25 years,” Awhad said.

Dr B R Ambedkar was also a resident of a BDD Chawl in Lower Parel. BDD chawls are spread over 90 acres in central Mumbai’s prime localities of Worli, Lower Parel and Dadar.

“After the deadly plague epidemic of 1896, much like the current crisis, the government decided to create institutions like BIT (Bombay Improvement Trust) and BDD. Both ensured that people from slums were given houses, especially those employed in Girgangaon (the mill area). This gave a fillip to the marginalized communities like Dalits who, thanks to casteism, could not easily find a secure and hygienic house in the city. No wonder the Dalit emancipation movement started by Dr B R Ambedkar was centered around such chawls right since its inception,” said Bharat Gothoskar, local historian.

Awhad explained that redevelopment of BDD chawls will also create housing stock and give new homes to residents who are living in a crunched space for generations.

The Rs 17,000-crore BDD chawl redevelopment project will result in around 7,000 families benefiting from it. These families currently reside in 160 sq ft homes. All the three sprawling sites are centrally located and once redeveloped, would change the skyline of central Mumbai. Officials said the redevelopment plan envisages redevelopment of 121 such buildings at Worli, 42 at Dadar’s Naigaon and 32 at Delisle Road in Lower Parel. The tenants will get 500 sq ft houses in the redeveloped project.

“The 2 Naigaon buildings were used to house BMC staffers so they vacated but others have not. We are not against redevelopment but all demands of residents must be met. Mhada must give ample open spaces, community spaces and corpus funds for long- term maintenance. We want foolproof agreements for all residents and guarantee of transparent, timely delivery. All this must be cleared, only then will people vacate, otherwise not,” said Raju Waghmare, president, Akhil BDD Chaali Sarva Sanghatana Ekatrit Sangh. In August last year, the first part of the project was started with redevelopment of 121 chawls spread over nearly 60 acres in Worli, with 10,000 residential units. Worli has the maximum number of chawls out of 195 BDD chawls. 12 chawl buildings at Sewri are out of the plan since it is owned by Mumbai Port Trust of the Central government.

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