Will Mumbai's market heritage rot before it is saved?

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 01, 2012 20:00 hrs

As one enters Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market, popularity known as Crawford Market, it's evident that the Christmas season has arrived in Mumbai. The market, one of the oldest in the country, wears a busy look with decorative bells, colourful lights, cutlery, lamps, candy bars and pine trees of different sizes. With a range of imported chocolates, fruits, vegetables, dry fruit and more, it's also a foodie's paradise. If only it was a little cleaner.

The scores of shops that line the narrow pathways of the historic structure in which the market is located are spotlessly clean. But the area surrounding them is full of filth. The drainage facilities are poor and so is the lighting. All-out restoration is the only way to preserve the 141 year-old market, say the shop owners. A senior official of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is responsible for the administration of the market, says the redevelopment plan is being taken up on priority and would be finalised in the next few months.

But the shopkeepers are sceptical. "Time and again, we have been hearing about BMC's renewed interest in this project," says Md. Karim, the owner of a 250-year-old cutlery store. "We, too, would want some relief from the leaky building which becomes impossible to operate in during monsoon." Jadhav Bhau, a wholesale fruit seller, adds, "Every monsoon, I face huge losses. Forget re-development, let them repair the leaky roofs first."

The idea of the redevelopment of Crawford Market was first mooted in 2007. It was decided that both the heritage wing of the market and the market space would be renovated. A consultant was appointed to look into the renovation of the heritage wing in 2008. However, there was no further word on this. There were also allegations of land being given off to developers for a hefty sum. Later, BMC said that the process would be scrapped. It was then decided that BMC would execute the project on its own without any developer's help. There was also an issue over the floor space index (FSI) of four being allocated to the project.

Early this year, it was decided that the project would be executed in two phases. Phase 1 would include restoration of the heritage wing and Phase 2 would include redevelopment of the market area. Reports suggest that BMC has finalised the tenders for the restoration of the front heritage building. The front portion of the Crawford Market falls under Grade I of the Heritage Grading System. Buildings and precincts of national importance that embody excellence in architectural style fall under Heritage Grade I. These buildings are usually landmarks. But, the FSI issue is still unsolved.

"When my father was alive, he was hopeful of the structure getting renovated," says Dawood Noor Abdul, a dry fruit merchant at the market. "Now, I am reaching his age and I am yet to see something substantial happen." Another worry is that BMC hasn't yet decided where to relocate the shop owners while the renovation is on. "The renovation will take about five to eight years. Where will the 2,000-plus shops be relocated? The authorities still haven't found a solution for this," says a pet shop owner.

Be it a 150-year-old establishment or a two-year-old store, owners of all are ready to relocate. Venting out his frustration, Shaikh Zameel Akhtar, who has a dry fruit shop, says they have to pay from their pocket for all major and minor repairs. "If a drain gets clogged or we want more lights on the pathway, we end up paying. We are tired of complaining about these petty issues. Look at the 35 gates of the market. They, too, are broken."

Crawford Market, one of the most sought-after destinations for both locals and tourists, deserves to be treated much better, say shoppers. "For every grocery requirement, we have products here that meet our budget," says Leena Matthew, a 54-year-old regular at the market. "Yes, we are now used to this stench and filth. But this heritage structure needs attention at the earliest." Matthew says that her relatives, who often fly in from France, also took an instant liking to the market. "We do not want to lose yet another architectural heritage structure to red tapism and bureaucratic delays."

A Look Back -

1) Officially called Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai
2) Originally named after Arthur Crawford, Mumbai's first municipal commissioner
3) The building was completed in 1869
4) In 1882, became the first building in India to be lit up by electricity
5) Was Mumbai's main wholesale market for fruits till March 1996

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