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When it comes to plundering of public spaces for the benefit the builder lobby, there is not much to choose in Mahrashtra between the Shiv Sena-BJP combine or the Congress parties.

In the year 2005 during the Congress rule, Ganesh Naik, environment and forest minister, openly talked of the need to sell public spaces. That these were very scarce in Mumbai even then and are more scarce now makes the situation really grim.

Now, the current Sena-BJP government in the state is on the same path but in a more subtle way. Unless, there is a very serious resistance from activists, architects, urban planners and others Mumbai and other cities will be plunged into further chaos.

The concrete jungle that has come up in the former textile mill area in Mumbai with a blank cheque to unscrupulous builders is getting worse. One shudders to think what will happen when more of these high rise luxury towers come up in the next few years. Despite all the sales promotion talk and paid news about a shining corporate, luxury environment, it is clear that we are only creating a terrible mess with unmanageable car traffic.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s ideals have been wrecked in the last three decades if one sees the vulgar capture of space all around the memorials to him, the Nehru Centre and Nehru Science Centre .

Fortunately, a few sensible people are raising their voice. Mr.D.M. Sukthankar, a former municipal commissioner and former urban development secetary of the government of India, and Shirish Patel, a noted structural engineer and planner, have strongly opposed the state government’s latest device to give higher floor space index benefits to developers on the basis of vacant spaces in government owned premises.

Government land belongs to people, It cannot be traded for profit, they have warned.

Another obnoxious proposal is to do the same for the Mahim nature park one of the few green spaces in Mumbai.

And when the ultra-rich are given the main benefits of the land deal, what kind of houses will be built for the poor ? It will be like living in stagnant air at the bottom of a well, warn the two experts. Both are around 86. All credit to them. Younger ones also need to speak out and check the rot.

Here is a glimpse of the kind of development taking place in the mill areas.The entrance of this little garden looks like the gate of a prison and it tells us a lot about the nexus of big builders and those enjoying political power.

Here are two enormous land masses, the now notorious Kamala mill compound and next to it is coming up a huge Lodha Tower complex with several high rises on the land of the closed Shreeniwas textile mill at Senapati Bapat Marg in Lower Parel in Mumbai.

Both seem to have given little to the city in terms of public space and housing for ordinary people that the original government directives stipulated.

This little garden next to the imposing Lodha Tower It is also on the land the former Shriniwas mill. But it is actually an insult to the citizens if one considers how marginal it is to the adjoining imposing edifice of the Lodha complex which boasts of the highest luxury residential tower in the world coming up there.The site shows how ordinary people are completely marginalized in this city now completely taken over by big builders and Capital.

The garden is on a narrow strip of land running parallel the Lodha complex and it seems to have been built more to provide visual relief for the residents.

The Lodha complex sales promotion campaign for the very rich is an affront to the history and character of this area. It describes the area as Golden Mile, a fiction of imagination. It does not mention that the towers are coming up on the land of the textile mill and more lamentably mentions the Senapati Bapat Road, the main artery in the area, merely as SB marg. It negates one of the finest names in India’s freedom struggle and environment protection. He was an armed revolutionary-turned Gandhian educated in England.This is how radical history is sought to be erased.

It also creates an utterly fictitious picture of the area around the towers. It calls the area a glittering stretch with some of the finest hotels, luxury shopping and premium entertainment hubs. True these are all there but the whole complex looks utterly shabby. Any ordinary passerby on Senapati Bapat Marg can see this.It also claims that the area is bordered by the Mahalaxmi race course when it is actually quite a distance from this complex.

On the positive aspect of the garden, it has some interesting undulating, winding paths, some good landscaping, comfortable wooden benches. But no drinking water or toilet facilities And it is almost sinister to want to charge an entry fee here, there is already a provision for a ticket window though at present entry is free. It was inaugurated a couple of month ago by Sena youth leader Aditya Thackeray. Why on earth should the names of two Sena corporators Kishore Pednekar and Santosh Kharat be inscribed on the gate so prominently ?.

Also pretentious is its attempt to evoke the history of Mumbai through plaques about landmarks and textile mills. In hindsight it is almost sinister to blame the textile strike for the closure of mills. Mill owners made huge gains out of what was publicly owned land to which they should never have had any moral claim to ownership or sale. It is clear that they would have sold the land in any case in collusion with the government.

On the entry gate are written names of almost all the closed textile mills in a supposed mark of tribute to the industrial growth of Mumbai when in fact the politicians and the bureaucrats have done the utmost to damage the urban fabric through their handling of the land transactions.

And the media seems to have completely missed this irony in its coverage of the multiple crimes involved in the Kamala mill fire. The complex still proudly proclaims at its entrance Kamala Mills – Built on Principles.

I went around the area last week. It is also so shabby, totally unworthy of a corporate, fashion, gourmet district it claims to be. The regional passport office of the government in there does not have the basic courtesy to provide sitting space for applicants. They have to stand in the open and it is going to be worse in the summer months.

I went to the Four Seasons luxury hotel near Nehru Science Centre to attend a meeting recently. While returning, I wanted to take the rear entrance as it leads to a shorter route to the Lower Parel railway station. But the staff politely told me it is only for workers, we don’t allow guests to use it and the area is not nice. Such are inequalities and attitudes growing in Mumbai.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book questioning the automobile dominated pattern of urban development

2 Comments

  1. Sally Dugman says:

    This same process is happening all around the world. The natural world and green managed spaces are being dismantled for economic growth and profit. For example:

    America’s parks and public lands suffer another loss under Trump …
    thehill.com/…/369821-americas-parks-and-public-lands-suffer-another-loss-under-tru…
    Jan 22, 2018 – While not surprising, it’s still troubling that nearly all of the bipartisan experts serving on the National Park System Advisory Board felt compelled to resign in protest over the misguided policies of the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior (DOI). The fact that these experts, who care deeply about …

    A Short History of America by R. Crumb and Joni Mitchell – YouTube
    Video for crumb history of america youtube
    ▶ 2:51
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRkq595NhD0
    Sep 21, 2009 – Uploaded by bdlightner
    Music Video: “A Short History of America” cartoon poster by R. Crumb with music by Joni Mitchell, “The Big …

    The consequences of this human folly are going to be dire. This point is obvious!

  2. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Mumbai is being commercialised to the core. While the lands are being occupied and sold by tycoons, workers are left on the footpath. Even British rulers did not do thismuch damage.
    SAHIR wrote in a lyric parodying Iqbal
    Chino- Arab hamara Hindustan hamara
    Rahney ko ghar nahi hai
    Saraa jahaan hamara

    Soney ko hum kalandar
    Jaatey hain Boribundar
    Har ek coolie yahan ka
    Hai razdaan hamaraa

    Jitney bhi buildingey thi
    Setho ney baatley hai
    Footpath bumbai ka
    Hai aashiyan hamaarav