The area, known as Bhendi Bazaar, will rehouse 20,000 people crammed into 250 crumbing buildings in a Muslim enclave in south central Mumbai, just north of the British-built train station formerly known as Victoria Terminus. Estimated to cost 40 billion rupees ($600 million), the project is attracting bids from local and international companies with experience in urban redevelopment. And it’s being held up as an example for an India seeking to convert its centuries-old decaying housing into modern living.
The redevelopment is forecast to generate economic activity of as much as $4.8 billion and employment for tens of thousands of people over the next decade, according to Anand Laxmeshwar, a director at tax, merger and risk consultancy BMR Advisors Pvt.
Construction has already begun with the almost unanimous cooperation of residents—with about 70 buildings demolished so far and more than 1,700 families, or about half of the total, already moved to free, fully furnished temporary housing and awaiting the completion of the first towers by 2018.
A key reason for the acquiescence is that the redevelopment project is being carried out as a philanthropic and religious endeavor: by the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust, a charity set up in 2009 by the late spiritual leader of the area’s Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community. The trust, while still in the process of choosing a developer to complete the complex, started on the construction in January.
The Trust contracted local developer Capacit'e Infraprojects Ltd. to develop the first of the towers and New Jersey-based Tricone consortium for another under its supervision until it finishes the process of choosing a final developer.
Bhendi Bazaar got its name from the shortened form of the area "behind the bazaar” of Crawford Market during the British colonial period, and it offered dormitory-style homes to male migrant workers on the docks of the nearby port of old Bombay. As the city’s flourishing trade and textile mills grew, laborers started bringing their families to live in these single-room units. Gangs operated in the area in the 1970s and ’80s, and one of the country’s most-infamous gangsters, Dawood Ibrahim, linked to the Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993 and currently on India’s most-wanted list, resided in Bhendi Bazaar.
Typically in Mumbai, getting residents to agree to vacate their homes while they’re being redeveloped can involve years of negotiations with people unwilling to leave. A developer needs 70 percent of residents to sign over consent in order to get permission to build. Squabbling families, reluctance from landlords and tenants, a laundry list of official permissions and suitable profit margins put such development efforts to the test.
"Tenants and homeowners have extremely low levels of trust in developers, and the horror stories are plenty,” said Laxmeshwar of BMR. "The problem with the country as a whole isn’t with the planning and thinking, but in implementation.”
At Taj Icecream, a 125-year-old shop that got its start when the British imported ice to India, the owners say they are confident the Trust will deliver on its promises. The Taj has been operating from a small, sparse 250-square-foot shell in a by-lane of Bhendi Bazaar among the many eateries that dot the streets. Mustafa Icecreamwala, 39, is planning his own makeover.