Mumbai’s bustling Bhendi bazaar is set for a makeover

WITH THE TIMES: Shops and houses will be housed in vertical towers under the Bhendi Bazaar Redevlopment Project.  

On a small wooden stand, Taha Tahid has laid out his wares. In that little space, only a few brooms can be displayed.

Here in Saifee Jubilee Street and other such bylanes of Mumbai’s famous Bhendi Bazaar, every inch is valuable. One of the densest localities in the island city, this 16.5-acre bazaar holds an important place in the city’s long history of trade and commerce.

This part of the old city is in for a makeover. The Dawoodi Bohra community, which is concentrated in this pocket, plans to redevelop it as per the State government’s cluster development policy. The population alone — an estimated 20,000 people — is a daunting factor for any kind of development activity and the reason this Rs. 4,000-crore project is being keenly watched.

This ambitious project involves pulling down 250 buildings and 1,250 shops, and building 17 towers across nine sub-clusters. As the 3,200 houses of Bhendi Bazaar go vertical, more open spaces will be available for parks, parking and other amenities. Residents will get a minimum of 350 square feet carpet area.


“Density and shopping areas are our biggest challenges. We have tried to retain the vitality of Bhendi Bazaar, the cultural factor, the eateries and markets. It’s old wine in new bottle with better infrastructure. We want to give the high-street shopping experience as opposed to the mall experience. We are making sure the businesses are not affected. Next, we have retained the religious structures,” says Qutub Mandviwala, master planner and architect of the project.

The Bohra leitmotif is evident in the project’s conceptualisation, inspiration as well as planning. The Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT), a charitable institution of the community, was formed solely to redevelop the area, which has the Raudat Tahera, a mausoleum in Bhendi Bazaar, at its heart.

“The whole idea is to uplift the lives of the people. The late His Holiness Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin [the community’s spiritual leader] always knew the area is in bad shape and wanted to do something about it,” says SBUT Chief Executive Officer Abbas Master.

In the wake of the recent devastating fire in the neighbouring congested Kalbadevi, realignment and widening of roads has become crucial. The project proposes widening of roads from the current width of six to eight metres to up to 16 metres. However, the plan does not include a fire station. The SBUT maintains that the buildings would be easily accessible from the main roads and the nearest fire stations are only one kilometre away. All important clearances under its belt, the project is now awaiting the commencement certificate (CC) for starting construction.

By and large, Bhendi Bazaar’s residents welcome the project as a necessary change.

“Lower middle class families are getting homes with attached bathrooms on a platter at no cost. No such project has happened anywhere in the world. Other areas are waiting to see what happens,” says Salim Merchant, a foam dealer on the arterial Ebrahim Rehmatulla Road. He speaks fondly of trams and the landmark JJ flyover rising before his eyes. Will he miss the old-world charm? “Obviously the old flavour will go, but things have to change. You can’t hang on to that,” he says.

Local people feel it would take a decade before the area will look like the picture in the project brochure. An ongoing row over the spiritual successor of the community has delayed the project, they say.

“If our beloved Syedna Burhanuddin were alive today, this work would have been done in two years,” says a mat dealer from Bhendi Bazaar.

Some residents even wonder whether the much-talked-about revamp will ever happen. It’s been nearly five years since the residents of the 100-year-old Gala bhai building were shifted to a transit camp after it was demolished. Others who claim to own more space feel they have been cheated in the bargain. Shop-owners like Firoz Kagazwala have not moved to the commercial transit space built by the SBUT fearing it would affect his business.

The homeless

The worst hit will be the teeming mass of small vendors like Taha, who throng the bazaar to make a living, as well as those who have made its streets their homes.

“Where do we figure anywhere in this? Either I have to find a new job or go back to my village. There are thousands like me,” says Mohammad Sheikh Khan Ghadiwala, a second-hand wristwatch seller from U.P., who sleeps outside a shop at night. Experts have raised concerns about the “inclusiveness” of Bhendi Bazaar. “We don’t know if there would be unwritten filters about who can come in. It’s going to add more people, so where is the decongestion?” asks an architecture professor, who does not wish to be named.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 8:39:57 AM |

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