Mumbai (1661-1947) | Shortage for Housing, a Masterplan for Bombay

Mumbai (1661-1947) | Shortage for Housing, a Masterplan for Bombay
Chawl © The Times of India

The ever growing population of Mumbai is an ongoing problem for the Government.  The continuing shortage was more acute among the working and middle class.  In the late 19th, early 20th century when the cotton boom took place,  the number of workers at cotton mills rocketed up to 8 times from 20000 in the early 1920s.  Workers are expected to live near the mills resulted ‘Girangaon or the village of the mills’, Girangaon spanned over a thousand acres in the central part of Bombay at the heights of cotton production.  On the other hand, dock workers are expected to work near their work site near the easter foreshore too.  They lived in kholis comprising 1 or 2 rooms in a chawl or multi-unit 2 or 3-storied buildings that are critically labelled as ‘human warehouses’.  The living condition was rather unpleasant which they slept on chaitai or straw mat on the floor with blankets and rugs made of goats skin.  Due to its limited space, kitchens and bathrooms were shared among 3 to 4 workers and necessaries were located at the end of each floor with a long narrow verandah connecting the units (Dossal, 2010, p.149-151).  Together with the dock workers, they constituted a large component of the city’s working class.

Chawl © The Times of India
Chawl © The Times of India

 

Between 1898 and 1933, the Bombay Government implemented “Harmonious Planning” as a solution to political and social unrest among classes.  The Bombay City Improvement Trust (BCIT) was founded on 9th November, 1898 to deal with crisis caused by plague or municipal bodies.  33 projects were carried out having targeting to decongest overcrowded parts of town, provide better ventilation and sanitary areas, and supplying additional housing for the poor and police force.  The government saw the need of a effective planning authority in order for the city to function well.  With the support of the Trust, Bombay Municipal Council drawn plans for railway extension, broadening of existing road networks, water, and sewage system, and an urgent need of providing housing for the working class. Rents at Rs 3-1/5 to Rs 5 per month for a small apartment was very difficult for a dock or mill worker who earned an average salary of Rs20 per month and it is not financially viable to the construction business if they offer housing at limited profits.  Thus,  land reclamation for the Back Bay and  constructing houses on agricultural lands such as Mahim Woods with transportation extending to those areas seemed to be the most effective option for the Government.

Locality map of congested central Bombay © 1905 Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai
Locality map of congested central Bombay © 1905 Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai
Map of 1905 reconstructed from Laughton's map of 1872 showing new roads and improved transport © Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai
Map of 1905 reconstructed from Laughton’s map of 1872 showing new roads and improved transport © Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai

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Plan of Bombay mill area showing chawl sites (within the arc) © Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai
Plan of Bombay mill area showing chawl sites (within the arc) © Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai
Map of Lower Parel Division - showing mills survey in 1915 and corrected until 1955 © Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai
Map of Lower Parel Division – showing mills survey in 1915 and corrected until 1955 © Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai

 

In the development of Mahim Woods put forward in 1900 and 1904,  the proposed improvements for transportation like creating suburban railway lines offered the possibility to relocate middle and working class people from the northern part of the island.  The proposal could possibly reduce congestion in the island city and develop cheaper housing in a better and healthier environment.  However, the development did not work out as planned due of opposition of the original inhabitants claiming that taking over their lands could not justify the shortage of living space.

Map of Mahim Woods and Salt Plans © 1905 Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai
Map of Mahim Woods and Salt Plans © 1905 Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai

 

With the efforts made by architect and educator Claude Batley urging the Government to plan Bombay towards the Garden City, his student and later colleague P.P. Kapadia emphasised the need of a master plan that based on effective zoning to develop the island city in 1930s.  In his master plan for Bombay:

” The principles of zoning would be sensitive to the topography of the island.  Kapadia proposed that along the western foreshore land be earmarked for a residential zone, an equivalent strip to the east be set aside for harbour and industrial activity.  Between these two zones space be allocated for markets, bazaars workshops.  From Dhobi Talao to Colaba would b the location for administrative , municipal, and public services.”
(Dossal, 2010, p.197)

He also accentuate the importance of having green open spaces separating one zone from another.  Regarding housing, he is an advocate of building multi-storied buildings.

“if we admit, that the present population of 1.5 lakhs of people is the maximum that will fit within this island the function of these tall buildings will be to house this population in about half the present area – and leaving the rest of the ground free and open.  Now do you see, how plenty of room for playgrounds and parks can be acquired, and how narrow and grubby little streets flanked with tumbledown two-storied building can once for all be brought down?  This is how the acquiring of a few multi-storied buildings will at one stroke solve three major problems; the re-housing of the population, the traffic problem and the problem of parks and open spaces.  I dare to predict that in such tall and airy flats, commanding a vast view and in full face of the fresh breeze and of the sunlight, the greater part of the population of Bombay in the not too far distant future will find their homes in the residential areas”

(Kapadia, 1948, p.82-83)

Kapadia’s master plan for Bombay is indeed inspirational, but the plan did not anticipate problems that might arise in the future as life in an high-rise building was still a rather vague concept at the time.

 


 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Kapadia, P.P. (April 1948), JIIA Vol. XIV No.4

Dossal, M. (2010). Theatre of conflict, city of hope. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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