Placed in the heart of South Mumbai is Bhendi Bazaar – an iconic part of Mumbai’s cityscape, the characteristics of which are etched in history as a confluence of different cultures, faiths and bazaars, manifesting itself at the core of Mumbai’s cosmopolitan identity.
However, for the past few decades, the 150-year-old Bhendi Bazaar has been at a point of appalling urban decay. The century-old infrastructure was unsuited to the demands of modern urban life. The narrow lanes have made it almost impossible for vehicular traffic to move, while the lack of footpaths have created a pedestrian’s nightmare. Sanitation facilities in a pitiable state, and inadequate fire and safety measures have left the population vulnerable to natural calamities.
With Bhendi Bazaar’s redevelopment project completing its first phase, the outlook of this area has improved significantly. The journey of change first began with the establishment of the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust in 2009. Spread across 16.5 acres of land, the entire project covers around 250 dilapidated buildings, 3200 families and 1250 shops.
The ₹4,000-crore project was envisioned by the late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the 52nd leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community.
As part of the first phase of the project, around 610 families and 128 businesses have moved back into the new rehab towers named “Al-Sa’adah”.
Fatima Sheikh, a 48-year-old homemaker who recently shifted to Al-Sa’adah feels that the new premises have upgraded her and her family’s living standards considerably. “The best part is that my children can now play on the podium area safely which was more of a dream in the old Bhendi Bazaar,” she says.
Families who used to live as tenants in as small as around 50 to 60 sq.ft. houses for ages have now become the owners of homes with a minimum of 350 sq.ft. carpet area. Old and dilapidated buildings have replaced tall, modern skyscrapers with ample open spaces for children to play, walking and sitting areas for seniors, and basement levels for commercial, residential and visitors’ car parks. Besides that, the towers are equipped with sustainable practices like sewage plants, solar panels, rainwater harvesting and waste convertors.
While Bhendi Bazaar has been a regular destination for food connoisseurs, popular fast-food chains like McDonald’s and the likes have also arrived in the neighbourhood. With the continuation of the popular old food brands – like Fakhri Farsan,Taj Ice Creams and Tawakkal – and the introduction of new businesses, the project has opened up new business avenues and increased footfalls to the area.
According to Farzin Jethpurwala, a 41-year-old foam merchant, the redevelopment of this area was essential as the infrastructure had lived its age. “Instead of single building redevelopment, cluster-based development is the best possible solution for areas like Bhendi Bazaar which needed a complete makeover,” he said.
Meanwhile, 35-year-old Aliasgar Unwala whose family are living and doing business in Bhendi Bazaar for over 70 years shares how the new shop in Al Sa’adah Shopping Arcade has not only given them the ownership title but has also improved the hygiene and cleanliness levels around his shop.
The completion of the first phase of the project is ushering Bhendi Bazaar into a new era of change but work on other sectors needs to start soon.
According to an SBUT spokesperson, the majority of the residential and commercial tenants have been shifted to transit facilities or provided rental compensation to make way for construction in other sectors. “The demolition of the last few buildings have begun and we’re inching a step closer to begin construction of the next phase soon”, he added.
By Murtuza Merchant