Faithful redevelopment: what awaits Bhendi Bazaar?

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In a small shop in Bhendi’s bazaar, owner Devendra Jain shows an elderly customer two polka-dot ridas, the colorful skirt-scarf combo worn by the Bohra women, trying to match a photo on her phone. After decades of running the business that began with door-to-door sales, its loyal customers now enjoy a more convenient shopping experience.

In recent years, the store has grown from a filthy spot under a staircase in a chawl to a new space on the second floor of the newly refurbished Al Sa’adah towers.

13 buildings were demolished to make way for 41 and 36-story buildings, hovering above the low-rise buildings that line the area. A shopping center makes up the lower floors, where more than 120 stores, including Jain’s, are located on the outskirts and overlook the alleys. Parking, service floors and common amenities, with a play area, benches and a community hall occupy the central areas. Residential apartments start on the 9th floor, a good height from the horn noises and bustle.

Community redevelopment of Bhendi Bazar

The towers are just a glimpse of the drastic transformation to come. The driving force behind this project is the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project (SBUT), a non-profit trust run by the religious leader of the Bohra community, a sect within Shia Islam. A total of 250 low-rise buildings on 16.5 acres, 80% of which were declared unfit to live by the MHADA, will be razed. 3,200 elderly families and 1,250 businesses are in various stages of moving to transit areas and then to the skyscrapers that will replace them. Called the “elevation” project, each the family will get at least a 10% increase in the square footage of their property, the smallest of which is 350 square feet.

Jaali windows at Al Sa'adah towers
Islamic architecture frames the entrance to the Al Sa’adah shopping center. Photo: Sabah Virani

“In each building there was a narrow corridor called the ‘galli house’, where garbage was thrown out for collection. It would contaminate the water pipes, especially during the monsoon, and we would have to let the taps run for 15 minutes before the water became clear, ”says Saifuddin Lokhandwala, owner of a house and shop in the mountains. new towers. With his wife and son, he is one of the 550 residents who moved in February 2020. And despite having a double second home nearby, this is the one he prefers.

Unlike its old dwellings, the towers not only have separate garbage chutes for dry and wet waste, composting and 24×7 water, but also rainwater harvesting, a sewage treatment plant and panels. solar.

Entrance to a house with nameplate and welcome sign
Those who were tenants of rent-controlled buildings are now owners. Photo: Radha Puranik

A cluster redevelopment approach for Bhendi Bazaar

Across the busy Mohammed Ali road is the Saifee book agency. Owner Saifuddin Yusuf Golwala is a Bohra, but unlike his peers in areas marked for redevelopment, he doesn’t expect change to come his way anytime soon. “It’s a municipal building,” he says.

He has good reason to be skeptical. In 2019, The data of MHADA found that only 7% of the surrendered properties (those paying a repair tax) have been redeveloped in the previous 20 years. 462 buildings were stuck in redevelopment projects that had not started, despite obtaining CNOs to move forward.


Read more: Has urban planning in Mumbai failed?


“The case of Bhendi Bazaar is unusual,” says Lalitha Kamath, urban planning expert at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). “Most cluster redevelopment projects of this type have failed miserably, in large part because it becomes difficult to accommodate all the different demands, people, economies and time, on a particular space. “

The government of Maharashtra introduced the Cluster Redevelopment Scheme (CDS) in 2009, to incentivize the redevelopment of the entire area of ​​old buildings. Builders are offered a Floor Area Index (FSI) of up to 4, in exchange for adequate leisure space and infrastructure. But there have been very few policy takers. Only one, One Avighna Park in the mill lands at Lalbaug, Parel, has been completed.

Shops in Bhendi Bazaar
In order not to hamper the activity of stores in transit, a temporary shopping center at Bhendi Bazaar has been set up. Photo: Radha Puranik

The power of religious sanction

Saifuddin Yusuf admits there are issues including traffic and noise, but moving his store is just not an option. The central location and popularity with buyers helps businesses and attracts street vendors who sell their wares in kiosks and handcarts. Shoppers have a choice of products of different styles and prices lined up side by side, and popular restaurants nearby add to the attraction.

Redevelopment also carries the risk of failure, or a lengthy process and displacement. With the redevelopment of clusters in particular, the extent of regulations and authorizations required can lead to derailments. SBUT itself was founded in 2009 to execute the project, but construction did not begin until 2016. A stop-work order, problems with land acquisition and a change of builders delayed plans. of completion.

“You need something to hold it together, and state-led redevelopment is not a solidifier enough. A religious leader supplanted him in this case, ”says Lalitha.

70% of the residents of Bhendi Bazaar – which is moreover the fraction of consenting tenants required for the redevelopment – are Dawoodi Bohras. The Raudat Tahera, the sanctuary of the last two religious leaders, including Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin who initiated the elevation project, gives spiritual significance to the region. The worldwide patronage enjoyed by SBUT, not to mention its philanthropic funds, has helped make the project a reality.

The question then arises: to what extent is such a centralized but community-based project viable for the city?

Tall buildings rise high above
The towers are “L” shaped to allow the breeze to pass through for cross ventilation. Photo: Radha Puranik

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