'How The Powers That Be Are Doggedly Mauling Malabar Hill,' Writes Sarosh Bana

'How The Powers That Be Are Doggedly Mauling Malabar Hill,' Writes Sarosh Bana

The BMC has been cautioning that Malabar Hill, which is a basalt rock of igneous origin, is fragile, and the reservoir that is carved out of it can consequently collapse if it is not entirely reerected.

Sarosh BanaUpdated: Saturday, January 20, 2024, 03:45 PM IST
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Residents of Malabar Hill | File

The BMC's unprecedented plan to demolish a heritage 143-year-old colonial-era reservoir and uproot the iconic Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens, or Hanging Gardens, built over it is not the only scheme sounding the death knell for Malabar Hill, the most upscale locality in Mumbai and among the classiest in the country. While this disastrous plan is under review by a BMC-appointed technical committee, residents of this once-coveted neighbourhood, which extends over Ridge Road (BG Kher Marg), Nepean Sea Road (Laxmibai Jagmohandas Marg), Walkeshwar and Banganga in south Mumbai, are preparing themselves for the worst, traumatised as they have been of late by developments that are altering the area's character and even endangering their lives. 

BMC has cautioned that Malabar Hill may collapse if not completely rebuilt

To buttress its case for rebuilding, rather than repairing the reservoir, the BMC has been cautioning that Malabar Hill, which is of basalt rock of igneous origin, is fragile, and the reservoir that is carved out of it can consequently collapse if it is not entirely reerected.

Curiously, despite its own warning, the BMC has been granting permissions to builders for excavating cavernous foundations for constructing new high rises that are constantly mushrooming on Malabar Hill, posing a serious threat to the local population. Subterranean shock waves from blasting are also rattling buildings in the vicinity. As building weight increases non-linearly with increasing height, the vertical loads supported by the foundation, and consequently the ground beneath, can be colossal. 

Malabar Hill has been greatly affected after the Shinde govt took office

A recent report by nonbroking real estate research company Liases Foras cites 14 ongoing projects at Malabar Hill being undertaken by 12 developers. It finds average carpet area costs in the premium housing segment there to have surged within a year from ₹92,718 to ₹1.01 lakh per sq ft in Q3 2023-24, with 4BHK flats sized between 2,400 and 2,700 sq ft and costing ₹30 crore to ₹35 crore the preferred configuration. Malabar Hill has been particularly afflicted since the Eknath Shinde government took office in July 2022. 

A grave calamity has befallen the once leafy and tranquil Narayan Dabholkar (ND) Road – home to both the Deputy Chief Ministers, Maharashtra Assembly Speaker and Bombay High Court Chief Justice, as also the ₹1,000 crore residential property of retail investor Radhakrishnan Damani, apart from residential buildings and sprawling slums – which has been dug up ruthlessly time and again. For close to two years, this oneway road off L Jagmohandas Marg was torn apart to lay Mahanagar Gas pipelines, but soon after that work was completed, the BMC excavated it once again to lay sewer/water pipes. Within a year, this entire road has been ruptured to lay pipelines once again, in an alarming misuse of public funding and in the face of the BMC's own policy against digging newly-built concrete roads in the first year. It has also been reported that in space-starved Mumbai, Chief Minister Shinde has assigned three official bungalows to himself, while his Deputy, Devendra Fadnavis, occupies two, Sagar and Meghdoot. Shinde has the CM's official 10,970 sq ft residence, Varsha, at Mount Pleasant Road, plus Nandanvan and Agradoot, each measuring 3,195 sq ft and located next to Hanging Gardens. 

Residents have been concerned that the bungalows are being demolished to construct high-rises

A government resolution mandates one official residence per government functionary, but it does not apply to ministers. Moreover, each ministerial bungalow bristles with policemen and the entrances of the three top ministers' residences swarm with policemen, together with police trucks and vans. There are stringent parking curbs in the area, and roads lie cluttered with police barricades that are also stacked haphazardly, impeding public movement. Malabar Hill residents have also been disconcerted by reports of heritage colonial-era bungalows being razed to construct high rises. 

An 18-storey residential minister tower has been planned on a 2,584 sq m plot on BG Kher Marg where a 105-year-old bungalow, Puratan, once stood. The ₹119 crore project will create 574 sq m residences for 18 ministers, each full-floor flat comprising a living room, four bedrooms, kitchen, office, visitors lounge, antechamber, two staff quarters and storage space. Malabar Hill was a jungle till the end of the 18th century and its first access road was laid in 1828, paving its evolution from a jungle to an elite housing location over the next half a century. Today it seems doomed to return to being an urban jungle.

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