50% area could go to mill owners, while 33.33% for civic amenities and 16.66% for affordable housing with higher buildable rights

With the port trust land, let history not repeat itself in Mumbai.

First, the flashback: After the 1982 mill strike, the city’s vibrant Girangaon, which supported a workforce of at least 2.5 lakh workers, shut down, with workers, chawls and mills making way for upscale neighbourhoods and new towers. In the late 1990s and first decade of millennium, central Mumbai started to get a new landscape and skyline. Spread across 240 hectares or 600 acres, the defunct mill land got revamped into luxury apartments, corporate offices, five-star hotels and shopping malls, without the adequate infrastructural upgrade. The redevelopment, skewed in favour of mill owners, meant the city lost its golden opportunity to reinvent itself.

Cut to 2018: The Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) plans to open up the eastern waterfront, four times the size of the erstwhile mill land. What started in 2014 as an idea to give major chunks of 966.30 hectares between Wadala and Colaba to public, has eventually turned into a commercial development plan with sea terminal and water tourism, leaving only 74 hectares accessible to common public. “The situation is similar to that of the mill land. The land was given to MbPT to run a port. If port activities are shut, they must look at developing the land for people, with adequate housing or amenities, and not for profit,” said Shirish Patel, an urban planner who analysed the plan.

Two scenarios across two decades highlight what Mumbai has lost and may well lose again.

In 1991, as textile mills shut down, the state drafted the development control rule 58 to redevelop mill land. DCR 58 proposed the one-third formula to equally distribute the land. The mills owners could sell one-third, give one part to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to create open spaces and the third part to Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA) to create affordable housing for mill workers, who lost their livelihood after the mills were shut. There was no response to the DCR, with the mill owners refusing to come up with redevelopment plans.

In 1996, the saffron government set up a committee under noted architect and urban planner Charles Correa to suggest ways to redevelop the land and prepare a blueprint for the National Textile Corporation-owned 25 mills and one state-owned mill to show how redevelopment could benefit each stakeholder – by developing civic amenities, infrastructure, open spaces, along with private development.

The committee recommended that 50% area could go to mill owners, while 33.33% for civic amenities and 16.66% for affordable housing with higher buildable rights. The report, with detailed drawings and plans to develop each of these mills and areas around them, including expansion of Elphinstone station with boulevards, gardens, and better infrastructure, was never implemented.