Acquiring a New Character
Although Kamathipura of today is a far cry from its historical fame, it still is type casted as a red-light district. If the proposed cluster redevelopment goes according to the plan, within few years the area will show-off an entirely new personality. Shubham Singh reports.
Kamathipura in Mumbai is one of those centrally situated districts which suffer from poor infrastructure, lack of green space and several other problems belying its premium location. With an area of almost 39 acres, it consists of approximately 700 buildings housing 5,000 tenants.To change the given scenario, the landlords of these buildings have formed an association, namely, Kamathipura Landlords Welfare Association (KLWA). The association has drafted a plan, a feasibility report and has floated a tender inviting the developers for the redevelopment of the area.
Various reports claim that the tenants have demanded 525 square feet of homes with all modern amenities and 70 per cent landlords have given their consent. However, Amin Patel, the MLA of Kamathipura, informs that this is partially true. “While, it is right that the tenants will get 525 square feet (carpet area) homes but, the cluster redevelopment plan has no provision of requiring consent of 70% building owners. The building owners have voluntarily formed an association to take forward the redevelopment of the area,” he stated.
The majority of landlords live in these buildings and the inability to carry out redevelopment individually helped build the consensus for cluster development. Project management consultant Sailesh R. Mahimtura of Mahimtura Consultants Pvt Ltd has been taken on board to prepare the feasibility report and as Patel confirmed that developers like Hiranandani Developers, DB Realty, Godrej Developers, etc. have been approached for the redevelopment. He also revealed that by March 31st this year, the developer will be shortlisted.
Quashing reports which claimed that Architect Hafeez Contractor will be designing the Kamathipura redevelopment plan, Patel clarified that architect has not yet been finalized. “Once the developer is shortlisted, the selection of the architect would be mutually agreed by the landlords and the developer,” he added.
The proposed cluster redevelopment of Kamathipurais said to emulate the famous Bhendi Bazar redevelopment being undertaken by SBUT (Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust)in another centrally located district of Mumbai.
No doubt, Kamathipura marred with dilapidated buildings, congested by lanes and just a single playground in the name of green space is in a dire need of upliftment. It is also true that its prime location within the city makes it an attractive proposition for the developer. The area is surrounded by some of the very posh localities and once the snazzy high-rises come, the place will see high property appreciation.
Certain reports mention the nearby Byculla jail premises as an obstacle to the redevelopment plan as host of permissions from local authorities in a radius of 500 metres of a prison is mandatory. According to Patel, the requisite permissions are in place and there is no such hindrance to the project.
Also, the said red light area within Kamathipura over the years has shrunk considerably restricted to mere two lanes. However, these two lanes are not part of the development plan of the area. Patel said, “There is a marked reduction in the number of sex workers in the area and people should stop branding Kamathipura as the red light area of Mumbai. The key reasons are that the sex workers were tenants and most of them over the years were driven away by the owners of the tenements. Also, the leather and jute industry business replacing them are more profitable.”Talking on the displacement of tenants while redevelopment, he assured that there will be transit camps for the residents till the time it gets redeveloped.
Kamathipura has seen some stand-alone buildings renovations and re-development in scattered parts,but the latest proposal of cluster redevelopment of the area will be a boon for the residents who are presently living in structurally unsafe buildings and unhygienic conditions. However, the development plan excluding the sex workers area suggests, the project lacks a holistic rehabilitation module.
History of Kamathipura
Kamathipura (also spelled Kamthipura) was first settled after 1795 with the construction of causeways that connected the erstwhile seven islands of Bombay. Initially known as Lal Bazaar, it got its name from the Kamathis (workers) of other areas of the country, who were labourers on construction sites. At one point during this period it was home to a Chinese community, which worked as dockhands and ran restaurants. By the late 19th century it all changed.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a large number of women and girls from continental Europe and Japan were trafficked into Kamathipura, where they worked as prostitutes servicing British soldiers and local Indian men.A busy road in Kamathipura was known as Safed Gully (White Lane) owing to the European prostitutes housed here during the British Raj. The lane is now known as CursetjiShuklaji Street. The most well-known brothel in the area, Pila House, is the hybridisation of its original word: Playhouse. When the British left India, the Indian sex workers took over. Through the years, the sex industry in Kamathipura continued to flourish. Eventually it became Asia’s largest sex district.
Some historical sources point out that the origin of slums, subsequently the red-light areas of Mumbai including Kamathipura is related to land acquisition, from the indigenous locals who were evicted from their farmlands and cattle-fields and forced themselves to live in congested conditions, for the development of the industrial harbor city.
The area today has hardly kept pace with its yesteryears notoriety as the number of brothel based sex worker has dwindled from previously estimated 5000 to mere 1500 or lesser numbers.