Capture of Public Land in Mumbai

mill land mumbai

The Piramals are the in-laws of the Mukesh Ambani family. This article has for its reference point a new high rise luxury building recently built by the Piramals in Mumbai.

The capture of textile mill land by capitalists and throwing out thousands of workers from central area in Mumbai is one of the biggest land scandals in modern India.

I had seen for a long time the thriving working class culture. The mill district created numerous important writers and artists who came up from poverty fighting great odds in these areas.

I had also seen most mill areas and the havoc the builders have created with their high rise luxury buildings without any planning.. But I had missed this one. Earlier this week as I came out of the Reay road rail station of the Harbour branch I was struck by a tall building with some 70 storeys with the name Piramal Aranya inscribed in bold letters at the top.

Do these people even realise what Aranya means. For poet Tagore India is an Aranya sanskriti, a culture in which humans lived in harmony with Nature with animals and birds.

Buildings like these which are making Mumbai into a concrete jungle are a mockery of the concept of Aranya.

This building is a real gated community for the ultra rich, gated in the real sense the very high walls of the Mafatlal mill provide a natural isolation from the working class on the other side. The Piramals bought this mill from the Mafatlals. The Piramals, originally mill owners themselves, later diversified into pharmaceuticals and are now big players in real estate having just bought the discredited DHFL housing finance company for some Rs 34,000 crores.

Almost next to the Piramal Arnya building is the Mumbai Mayor’s sprawling bungalow in Byculla and another luxurious bungalow of the additional municipal commissioner. And all this is next to the historic colonial era Victoria Garden, a lovely big garden with a zoo.

So in a way, even physically there is such a nexus capitalists and and political bureaucratic overlords living in luxury enjoying the best view, close proximity to the greenest space in the city. How do these people get sleep occupying such obscenely large living spaces when ordinary people have no space to breathe.

Aranya building also commands the best view of the Arabian sea on both sides of the Mumbai harbour plus the huge Bombay Port Trust land that runs into hundreds of acres. Much of it is very green, I have seen it very few people venture into this area as it is at the outer edge of the city. But I walk there sometimes, straying out of Harbour branch stations and one discovers so much, though walking can be a little risky because of heavy trucks going to oil storage tanks and refineries.

One of the tasks of the Indian working class would be to strive to save this pristine space which the corporates are eying greedily as the old port area here is falling into disuse with the new port that has come up across the harbour.

If Mumbai is to remain livable for common people, this space must be saved. The best way would to convert it into one huge botanical garden and similar green projects which would be a great international attraction. If the government is looking for profit, it can make it through this green space. We require proper imagination.

Now about slums. Since this was a book about slums in Bangalore, I logged into the internet discussion.. But left after one hour feeling dazed. There was so much jargon, no one seemed to make any relevant point about such a real life issue. I got some information about the book finally when I read a review in the Hindu by Uma Mahadevan Dasgupta, an IAS officer.. This was in simple and understandable language.

I felt pity for students at institutes where some of these experts teach..

Slums are mainly a result of totally unjust land distribution , availability. But these academics are afraid of revealing the stark truth for fear of their tenure being cut. Such is their timidity. What kind of honest research can we expect from these people ? This intellectual class has let us down very badly, they should be tellers of truth, instead they are hiding the truth even while putting on an aura of being intellectuals. I remember some fifty years ago when much more land was available in Mumbai, a large number of poor people lived in huts very close the Harbour branch railway track.

Yesterday I saw a diesel railway engine shunting near Bandra station very close to the hutment colony. Such is the stark reality. Now am not referring to the book discussion but some of our urban thinkers simply do not want to focus on issues of inequality and social justice and so indulge in subterfuge. There are exceptions no doubt. Gautam Bhan has written a good piece for Scroll recently about the Delhi master plan and slums.He stresses the need for slum upgradation rather than building high towers. Interestingly, the photograph of Dwarka flats for slum dwellers built by the Delhi government with a very big green space in between buildings shows a far more humane pattern than in Mumbai.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on planning for pedestrians, public transport and opposing motor car dominated form of development

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