MUMBAI/ Visionary Suburb Planning: Displacement of original settlements (1910-1920)

Displacement of original settlements (1910-1920)

Aiming to decongest the overcrowding and insanitary housings in the old city, the Bombay City Improvement Trust (BIT) ‘opened up new areas in the northern parts of the island’ (BIT Act, 1898) as an indirect attack to attract people from the city to the suburb areas by providing new housing sites. The Trust physically acquired and transformed all the lands needed. Through the control of land, they wanted to recreate a built environment, converting lands from agrarian to urban use.

However, the northern parts of the Island were originally populated by the rice cultivators, Bhandari toddy-trappers and Koli fishing communities. Petitions were raised by the original landowners of the villages of Sion and Matunga. They disagreed that shortage of living space justified the taking over of their land. It is argued that the lands being acquired were not simply a physical land, but also the community life being taken over. The intention of BIT to convert their land into residential housings hindered their livelihood and occupation in the area. Farmers would lose their cultivated land and rice fields that supported their living over centuries. The Bhandaris communities would lose their ownerships of toddy-yielding tree and related toddy-businesses would suffer. The Kolis communities would lose their fishing rights and use of space for marketing their fish. Their inheritance and community belief could not be simply replaced by the compensation of money. (Mariam Dossal, 2010)

Years after, an observer reminisced about the Trust’s vision to the suburbs. He stated,

“ Under the name of “pubic purpose” vast areas of land have been acquired in the North of the city by the abuse of the Land Acquisition Act. I have deliberately used the word abuse because instead of saving the built bungalows in airy surroundings over there, the Trust destroyed them…”

Letter to the Bombay Chronicle, 1934

The Trust showed no consideration and concession to the claims of the villagers, in which the chairman of the Trust issued a brutal statement and referred the petitioners as ‘appear to be the inhabitants of the small and insanitary villages’ (G.O.W. Dunn, 1912) The Trust’s plans of replacing the original settlements through controlling the land was a visionary planning without accepting and dealing with the present reality.



Dossal, M. (2010). Theatre of conflict, city of hope: Mumbai, 1660 to present times. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Rao, N. (2013). House, but no garden: Apartment living in Bombay’s suburbs, 1898-1964.

Citizen. (1934). Letter to the editor, Bombay Chronicle, December 6, 1934, 8.

Dunn. G.O.W. (1912). Letter to Secretary, General Department, No. 1522, MSA/GD/Vol.48/1912, 125-131.

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