JUST FIVE kilometre from Adarsh Society, the hub of South Mumbai’s most prominent saga of irregularities and bent rules, a 22,000-sqm yard stands as the last memory of a top Mumbai bureaucrat who lost a great deal even after being absolved of corruption charges.
Crawford Market, one of Mumbai’s most popular marketplaces — now named Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Market — was originally christened in 1869 in honour of Arthur Crawford, who at the age of 30 became Mumbai’s first municipal commissioner, serving between 1865 and 1871.
Crawford is credited with transforming Mumbai, improving its infrastructure and sanitation, with contemporary writers claiming that his clout was second only to the Governor’s.
The Bombay Gazetteer writes about how Crawford had an ambitious scheme to dig a tunnel through Malabar Hill, and to reclaim part of the foreshore by the material excavated therefrom so as to relocate the Race Course, then at Byculla. This grandiose plan, however, did not materialise.
But a rapid transformation of Mumbai led by him led to accusations of financial mismanagement. Though Crawford remained unscathed during his stint as municipal commissioner, things unravelled once he took over as the revenue commissioner of the Mumbai division. Accused of bribery and corruption, including that of taking money from subordinates to allow them to continue in certain departments, Crawford was tried before a special commission, presided over by Justice Wilson of the Calcutta High Court.
The inquiry opened in 1880; and the commission held 67 public sittings. A large number of witnesses were examined. Ultimately, Crawford was found not guilty.
“He was only careless; and the villain of the piece was a personal clerk of his, who made him sign all sorts of papers which Crawford signed blindly and recklessly,” writes P B Vachha in his book “Famous Judges, Lawyers and Cases of Bombay: A Judicial History of Bombay during the British Period”.
But despite the clean chit, the then Governor Donald Mackay, also known as Lord Reay, ordered the removal of Crawford’s name from the list of civil servants. The administration also decided to take action against all other officials who under indemnity had told the commission that they had paid bribes to get posts. Finally, all were asked to resign.
“Ultimately, the Governor-General issued a modified Act of indemnity. It protected the officials from prosecution; but they were ordered to send in their resignations; and some monetary compensation was provided for them,” Vachha says in his book.
Facing ignominy, the once flamboyant Crawford who had also served as a police officer, retired to London where he wrote books on his Indian experience. A small plaque at the entrance of MJ Market is now the only reminder of this bureaucrat’s tenuous links with the city.
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“Lord Reay, who was a puritan, was scandalised by the lavish living of Crawford, his extravagant and ostentatious hospitality, and his reckless borrowings from all and sundry. The Governor was determined to make an example of Crawford…” Vachha writes.
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