Why most mills in the city continue to languish
The entrance to the compound is barely lit but shadows flit past,indicating a flurry of activity inside the Mathuradas mill compound in Lower Parel. A group of men are loading cargo from a godown on the premises to a truck nearby. At some distance,people use the alleyway as a thoroughfare between the main road and the lane that leads to the railway station. Every few minutes,cars drive in and halt outside a large,well-lit section of the building.
Inside,Cafe Zoe,with its high ceilings and exposed brick and ducting is full of patrons. Elsewhere,a live performance is on at Blue Frog. The compound reveals the versatility of the mill structure and how it can be transformed into a social hub,yet,Mathuradas,and a few others like it,are aberrations. Most of the mills are languishing or being demolished to make way for highrises,malls or office spaces.
The reason behind this is manifold. In the original Development Control (DC) rules of 1991,each mills land cumulatively amounting to 600 acres from 58 mills was supposed to be divided into three equal parts. It allowed sale of mill land only on the condition that one-third of the land would go to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for open spaces,one-third to the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority for developing low-income housing for mill workers among others,and the remainder to the mill owner. However,in 2001,the government amended the rule to state that the one-third rule applied only to the open land in the mill area. The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2006. While it came as a boon to the real estate lobby,it shrunk the allotted communal space vastly. Since then,the unlisted mills have seen a rapid takeover by real estate giants,giving birth to urban centres like the Raghuvanshi and the Phoenix mill complexes with their tableaux of offices,high-end stores,restaurants and night clubs.
It also effectively put on the backburner architect Charles Correas plan to create a consolidated open public space connected via walkways and dotted with cultural hubs. In the late 1990s,Correa,as part of a committee set up to plan mill land redevelopment,had proposed that the 58 mills not be viewed as individual structures but as a chunk of land that can be freed and made available for development, says Mustansir Dalvi,a professor of architecture in Mumbai.
Conservationists since have proposed various plans,of which a textile museum on the land belonging to the heritage structures of the India United Mills 2 and 3 has got the approval of the BMC. Conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah,who is heading the project,says the proposed site will make available 66 sq km of land for the creation of an auditorium for screenings and lectures,cafes,museum shops and an exhibition area for craftspeople on tour. The plan awaits the city heritage committees nod.
However,open space activists argue that such a plan will alienate those for whom the land is being freed. Architect Neera Adarkar says that the city needs open spaces where people can take a walk and children can play. BMC needs to reclaim the land and hand it over to the gardens department, she says.
Lambah is aware of the pitfalls of keeping the general public away from such spaces. It widens the gap in the society when people with several members of the family cramped in one room can see this space across the road but have no access to it,while the moneyed party there, she says.