MUMBAI/ Reordering the old city 1 – the impossible mission of land acquisition

Reordering the old city 1

Everyone is against the trust – the impossible mission of land acquisition in Mumbai sanitary regeneration process (1900-1920)

As declared in an official history paper of the plague “Filth, overcrowding, bad ventilation and bad drainage are the fostering causes of the plague. “( Nathan , 1897) Slums would be a more precise description of Bombay at that time and the plague outbreak confronted the colonial government with the problem of sanitary disorder. Since then, the sanitary regeneration has been a discourse of urban development in the city and was the mission of the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) when it established in the 1989.

One of the primary objectives of the trust was to carry out “slum clearance” in areas considered as insanitary by the Municipal Commissioners. This action required the control of land and the trust has been empowered by the English court to take possession of land either by agreement or by compulsory acquisition. However, the trust has encountered tremendous obstacles with different parties trying to claim an interest in the process, “ in every detail connected with the acquisition of properties wearisome unavoidable and unexpected delay is caused.”( Nathan , 1897) This setback led the trust to shift the focus from old city to the suburb land in the north in hope to control the land.

The first issue appeared is the lack of clarity of title to land. The tate- Dickinson survey of 1811-1828 and the Laughton Survey of 1965- 1972 resulted in two sets of street index. There were no clear titles to any piece of property as different forms of tenure during industrialization and the shift of colonial authorities.

Another challenge the trust encountered was the debate over true value of market price. There were debates between the trust and the landowner regarding the compensation basis of the acquired land. At first, the trust would compensate for the cost and market price of the existing building. Later on, it was requested to consider the future yield of the site as well and in 1907, it came to an agreement of using “the Plotting Scheme” as the basis. Despite a mutual recognized compensation basis, there were still controversies over the value of market price, which even the English court found it hard to clarify for the trust.

Upholding the notion of public interest, the trust faced drastic opposition from all parties in taking control of land. As a colonial-authorized body, Indian criticized the BIT for undermining the locals and conflicts provoked when the trust attempted to acquire religious worship land. As for the British, self interest was more important than the well- being of a colonial state, rather then assisting the trust, the English court chose to backed the Indian in their legal disputes with the trust as a way to protect their property. Being put in a powerless position, the trust had its every decisions being challenged by the 1920s which taking control of mumbai land was indeed a mission impossible.


Kidambi, Prashant. The Making of an Indian Metropolis: Colonial Governance and Public Culture in Bombay, 1890-1920. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007.

R.Nathan, The plague in Inida, 1896, 1897, I, p.42

Rao, Nikhil. House, but No Garden: Apartment Living in Bombay’s Suburbs, 1898-1964.

2 Comments on “MUMBAI/ Reordering the old city 1 – the impossible mission of land acquisition

  1. The issue of the plague in Mumbai, offers an interesting parallel to the situation in Hong Kong, around the same time. This is further, more interesting as the built environment in Hong Kong ans Mumbai has manifested itself in a similar fashion, in terms of high density and land reclamation. The legal disputes over the land and building ownership are similar to the conspiracy of the Shek Kip Mei fires being orchestrated by the government, to clear out entire settlements, that were infested by the plague. I was wondering if there are any similarities in the actions taken by the colonial authorities in Hong Kong and Mumbai during this time, to counteract this problem and whether their actions had subliminal implications of control and domination over the land as the research suggests? Moreover, are there any similarities in the land reclamation policies and relocation efforts to move the affected people, in the two cities, to counteract the problem?

  2. To the government, acquiring land is a daunting job as conflicts with different parties would easily arise. However, the government should have understood that a shelter would mean everything to the residents and their worries were understandable.

    The best solution would be by agreement. However, the government bore the responsibility to ensure that adequate compensation or reasonable temporary housing would be offered to the residents. Or else, the acquisition would be nothing but a deprivation of their shelter.

    Housing problems is very common, however, the most painstaking issue in every country. Although governments might be ambitious in claiming the lands for better development, they should never turn a blind eye to the residents’ difficulties. After all, building a better country is the common goal shared by the government and the residents while their means was the only difference.

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