Thursday, March 4, 2021

Table of Contents for Project Focus

Project Focus




Towering Transformation



For a Mumbai inner city that seemingly borrows the local for okra for its name — it is though said to have been derived from the corruption of the English 'Behind the bazaar' — Bhendi Bazaar may soon represent the physical and smart characteristics of the vegetable. It will soon see a Manhattan like tall transformation from its 18th century dilapitated chawl sprawl, thanks to the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) ABBAS MASTER, CEO,
offered SHRIKANT RAO an understanding of the genesis of the project, its scope and the challenges ahead.




Give us an understanding of the genesis of the project. Can you tell us at what point such a dramatic change was contemplated and the role played by His Holiness the Late Dr.Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin?    


His Holiness Late Dr. Syedna had this vision for quite some time and wanted to do something to uplift the lives of our people. His vision got converted into action when in 2009 the Maharashtra state government decided to come up with the cluster development policy. That gave us a vehicle to implement the project. Until that there was no such mechanism to do things like this. So as soon as this policy was announced he wanted the trust to be formed immediately to take this forward. Since then we have been working and have done significant amount of work with astounding success. Within a year we got consent from almost 70 per cent of the owners.




It is an exemplary project in a sense that a community is helping itself to set infrastructure right in the face of governmental inertia. Is that assessment correct?


Yes, because the infrastructure is at least 100 years old if not more and nothing had been done for ages. The Rent Control Act has also not helped building owners to do anything. In fact things have deteriorated – there is absolutely no incentive for the owners to improve things because rents are so meagre. The government doesn’t have the resource, infrastructure to make it happen and therefore we came up with a plan which seemed to be reasonably good and actionable. Thus we thought why not give it a shot and planned this whole project. The first thing we did was the formation of a trust. We got some of the best consultants in place right away. When we got those things in place we appointed an architect. We also appointed an international consultant after a process of selection. The idea was to ensure that the world’s best brains worked on this project.




So how easy or difficult was it for you to persuade members of the community about the merits of redevelopment?       


Before taking up anything we have to convey the message. So what we did upfront was to organise meetings at various locations between members of the trust, tenants, architects and senior members of the community. We explained to them what the vision was and what we were planning to do and what things would be looking like in future and solicited their help and participation in the project. So this was the first thing that happened. Soon there was general consensus when people recognised that the conditions they were living in was pretty bad and would continue to be so. It was pointed to them that this project was being undertaken on a not for profit basis. We conveyed to the tenants that they would become owners of new homes which everybody dreams of. Asking them to move was not so easy. The first thing we did was we bought a piece of land close by and started building transit homes over there. Within a span of six months we made approximately 100 plus units and in the following six months we built almost 350 units out there. As soon as 100 units were ready we started shifting people. Then suddenly people found that it was very good. We provided them with a completely furnished place including carpets, cupboards, curtains and washing machines. These transit facilities have a sewage treatment plant, solar panels and a good location – they have a beautiful harbour view. Upliftment is the underlying objective of this project. As soon as people move their lives get uplifted not only physically but also emotionally by being together in a new environment. The transit facilities have been operational for the last two and half years and are kept spick and span by the people who maintain it themselves. Nobody throws garbage and things like that.




You have remarkably enough also provided for commercial transit?


Yes when the residential transit part turned out to be a success we soon realised that we should address the commercial part too. Now, MHADA requires that either we should give them transit homes or rental for residential and we did both but there is no provision for commercial transit anywhere for those displaced. We decided to make the entire commercial transit arrangement for them - and what has been done is absolutely state-of-the-art. These facilities have escalators, elevators and all that. Change is always difficult to accept even if it is for good as reluctance will always be there but we are trying to assist and help. We completed the commercial transit in 90 days and it is now functional.




So would you characterise it as a cakewalk?


No, it’s never a cakewalk. Otherwise a lot of other people would also be doing it. We are still giving them an option of either going to a transit – either residential or commercial, or to take a rental. Since livelihoods are involved it’s a slow process but we are getting there. We have also started shuttle services from Bhendi Bazaar to the commercial and residential transit. The whole idea is to make it more convenient as possible.




What were the main challenges faced?


The main challenge was to convince each tenant. It is a slow process to convince each and every tenant because the needs and requirements of each are different. Sometimes they are reasonable and sometimes they are not so. While we have got the all-important environment clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and in-principle approval on the master plan by the high power committee, there are still other final approvals remaining. Some of them say until all the approvals come let us be here and move out as soon as we get it. We understand those things so what we have started doing is we are bringing the buildings down till only the ground floor so the shops continue to function. So far we have demolished 40-45 buildings and have moved almost 1,400 plus tenants out of the 3,200 families.




What is the total size of the population that has been impacted and your strategy to deal with it? Tell us about the project itself beginning with the master plan and the scope of various works that will take place.


About 20,000 people have been impacted from this project. Our strategy is to make sure that interests of people are taken care of in residential and commercial and that’s why we built the transit. In terms of a master plan we knew that this is going to be a one of its kind project and we had to ensure that we were not just making buildings but we are contributing to a comprehensive and holistic development. Currently you will find narrow roads that end haphazardly so we made a master plan which ensured that all the needs were taken care. For example, each of the nine sub-clusters planned is independent in that you have parking, shopping, residences, play area, a podium –  children and senior citizens have exclusive areas on the podium which is almost 8 to 9 floors above the ground level because we have Ground +2 shopping and then you have couple of levels of parking after which comes the  podium. We have designed our buildings in such a way that it doesn’t attract heat since it is not facing direct sunlight. So it is not facing East and West in most cases. It is facing North-South so the heat absorption is less. We are also looking at some of the other initiatives which are in R&D mode right now. We plan to have an air-water heater system which converts heat from the air into hot water. So you don’t need geysers, you don’t need anything else. We are dealing with the manufacturers of it. This in turn also takes away the environmental heat and the rooms cool by 2 to 3 degrees Centigrade thus making it little more comfortable to live in. Moreover Mumbai doesn’t have extreme climate so it makes it much easier. We believe that most of the people may not need air-conditioners because of the orientation of buildings, wind, and the way it is designed. We are also looking at paints that give a cooling effect inside. So that is another initiative we are looking at as it will reduce inside temperature by a couple of degrees. We are looking at the things which will ensure that the running cost and the energy requirement is kept to the minimum. Water is another critical resource, so we have a sewage treatment plant to recycle water – the usage will be almost 40 percent less. Thus our water requirement when everything is developed is going to be same or less than before. We have also rain-water harvesting. All these initiatives by us have been awarded Gold rated development by Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) which is equivalent to LEEDS. We have the best consultants like AECOM helping us. Every sub cluster has a green area. Currently we don’t have a single tree. We plan to plant more than 700 trees. We don’t have footpaths so we plan to have large footpaths. We have designed our master plan in such a way that cars can enter into very few streets but in case of an emergency or for loading and unloading it can move there. Cars can just come out from the basement or parking area and go out into the main roads.




Can you tell us about the traditional or heritage elements that could be preserved in this development?          


There are no heritage elements as such in terms of buildings because they are absolutely run down. But what is important and we would like to preserve is we have a mosque over here. It is of Fatimid architecture, which owes its genesis to Yemen and Cairo. We would like to preserve that and plan to incorporate in our buildings. Also we would like to ensure that the place retains its vibrant environment. We don’t want to lose that. We would like to keep it modern, clean and open so that businesses can flourish.




Tell us about the avoidance of the mall approach vis-a-vis the High Street, which is the formula you have adopted?     


 In all of these developments we have kept our tenants participative and have obtained their feedback. While working on the commercial part we spoke with the tenants to find out what they preferred. Mall was one of the first options considered but it was immediately rejected by all the tenants who said they didn’t want that type a mall atmosphere. Also accommodate them all - 1200 businesses - would require a huge place and investments. They were all for street shopping. So we very consciously planned around it; all shops will face the main road which is15 meter wide (50 ft). And wherever you are, whether on the ground or upper floors, you still will face the main road. The planning is such that once you enter you don’t have to leave because it’s continuous. We plan to have crèche for children, facilities like toilets and other things; it will be made handicap-friendly. In the case of residential units we showed them various representative samples of buildings and according to their choice we have designed it.




Tell us what dictated the choice of your consultants. Were you looking at anything specific?


We wanted to ensure that we get some of the best brains around and we were successful in that because the people we talked to also wanted to be part of this project. They also saw it as a different opportunity. We have vertical transportation consultants like TAK consulting, Halcrow is our structural consultant. SYSTRA MVA Consulting is our traffic consultant. Perkins Eastman is our master planner. All of them have done complex projects before around the world.




Would this be a replica of smart city miniature as India is planning to build 70 smart cities in the future?


It will be smart in all respects but it’s not a city but part of the city. The government is also looking at this project as a forerunner or a model for India so that others can take it forward.



Do you see the neighbourhood people wanting to emulate the Bhendi Bazaar model?


I would certainly hope so because the concern is always there. We have a bad track record where developers have taken people for a ride. And in projects like slum rehabilitation they have to provide them housing but these developers put them in a corner. They give them 20-30 percent of the area and the balance 70-80 percent of it is exploited for commercial ends. They live in a ghetto. The whole idea is that it need not be that way. We can still provide people living in transit camps a much bigger area, much better living and still can have a model where expenses can be met. If there is a model that way then people will see the benefits of it. People will be willing to go through inconvenience for two to four years.




What is the funding for this project?


It is in the range of Rs 3,500-4,000 crore. All of these has been raised internally. We are now looking for a developer who will take this forward. 




What about construction materials suppliers? Are you looking at specific construction material to be used in this project?


Our objective would be to use methods and materials which help us in faster construction so that we can bring people back as soon as possible. We don’t want to use steel as a material because India doesn’t have that technology and it’s very expensive. Also people have some kind of reservation with steel. So we will make do with conventional ready-mix concrete but will ensure that speed is there.



Can you please elaborate on the current status of the project?  

We have moved more than 1,400 families already; we have started bringing down the buildings. Our approvals are in advanced stages and we are waiting for some more to come and once that happens we are ready to go. And we will do it in phases. Once we get the approvals to start work we would like to do our rehab portion which is a majority of it so that we can rehab people back. It will take around 4-5 years after that.



What sort of support are you receiving from civic agencies like BMC?      


Everybody is gung ho about the project. They talk about it in BMC and elsewhere. All the ministries – the Chief Minister particularly – have been supportive of the project. However, you know bureaucracy is bureaucracy it takes too long to do a thing. They are also having difficulties as this is the first project of its kind and there are no precedents.



Do you see the Bhendi Bazaar project setting a precedent for self help for various communities?       


We hope that it doesn’t have to be community driven. It could be right developers coming forward and doing such projects. The government has to be an enabler for this. One of the areas we have asked government to be an enabler is that if you have 70 percent of the owner’s consent then balance of it government should help and assist in acquiring control of the land because that is being one of the biggest challenges. All we are saying is that such projects should be classified as ‘for public good’. If you don’t do this project then the buildings will collapse and people will continue to die. And when it is for public good then government should be able to acquire it from people who are not willing to participate.




Do you see developers coming to the forefront and taking up projects like this?


There is a lot of interest from large developers such as L&T and Shapoorji Pallonji. There are also a few others who would need some clarity whether these things will happen. If the government contributes to that clarity, such projects will certainly elicit interest from developers. If the government comes forward and helps us in getting approvals fast, and in some areas remove the roadblocks, then things will begin to fly.






Mandviwala Qutub and Associates:                             
Master Planner and Architects


Perkins Eastman:
Consultant Architect

KPMG, India : Internal Auditors

Deloitte Haskins and Sells, India:
Statutory Auditors

Systra MVA Consulting (India):
Traffic Consultants


Halcrow Consulting India:
Structural Consultants


AECOM MEP & Infra Consultants

Knight Frank (India):
Market Research Consultants

Noor Enterprises:                                      

Design and Build Contractor for Transit Accommodation





The Bhendi Bazaar Redevelopment Project covers 16.5 acres of land in the congested area of Bhendi Bazaar in South Mumbai. The entire area is nearly 100 years old. MHADA has classified most of the buildings as ‘dilapidated’. Approximately 249 old and dilapidated buildings, 3200 families, 1250 businesses and five mosques and religious structures fall within the project area. All of these will be incorporated into a state-of-the-art development with new buildings, wide roads, modern infrastructure, more open spaces and highly visible commercial areas. SBUT will retain the mosques and religious structures in its current location. This path-breaking project will create an urban living space with the most modern infrastructure and amenities in this 100-year-old area. It will not just build better homes and roads but create a milieu that supports human development to its fullest potential - social, physical, mental, spiritual and economic. Yet, it will also preserve the religious, cultural and social spirit that has defined this vibrant locality for years. As a fusion of new technologies and the incomparable flavour of the area, it will stand as a unique architectural feat. The redevelopment will cover 16.5 acres comprising 3200 homes in 250 existing buildings; 1250 businesses and will impact the lives of 20,000 people.










Leave a Comment

Email Address
(will not be published)