Located in the heart of Mumbai city, the hamlet of Khotachiwadi has Portuguese-style bungalows, which were built in the 18th and 19th centuries. The area was declared as a heritage precinct, in 1995.
Khotachiwadi’s woes began, when the younger generation moved abroad and the senior residents found themselves unable to maintain the bungalows. The Rent Control Act, which brought a change in the rent structure from 1948, rendered landlords helpless, while tenants were often not concerned about the property. As a result, the residents began selling their bungalows to developers, to get a good price. During the 1990s, many new high-rises started coming up and the area began to lose its identity.
Realising the damage done by massive redevelopment, the residents have now come together, under the banner of Khotachiwadi Welfare and Heritage Trust, to find ways to preserve the rich heritage of the area. Fashion designer James Ferreira, who spearheaded the movement, has made his house financially stable, by using it as a living space, as well as an office. “What I am trying to do, is to preserve at least the one-third of what is left of Mumbai’s most famous gaothan. Khotachiwadi first lost access to the beach, when the railways were laid over a 100 years ago. We then lost most of the homes on the outer circle, as the rest of the ‘wadis’ or gardens began to disappear. What is left is the core area with narrow roads (from 8 ft to 14 ft). In spite of being a heritage precinct, we have lost two of our most iconic homes to developers,” he elaborates.
To attract the attention of the authorities and citizens, the Trust has taken many initiatives. The most important among them is a heritage walk – a tour that showcases the area around Khotachiwadi, its architecture and historical importance.
“We started the heritage walk to raise awareness about the area and to emphasise the fact that the heritage buildings of south Mumbai, should be saved from the onslaught of development, explains Ferreira. “It begins from Crawford Market and we then take the tourists to Banganga and Babulnath. Finally, all of them come to my home, which is 200 years old,” he adds.
Selling bungalows to heritage lovers
In the past, high maintenance costs forced many residents to sell their bungalows to developers. While a ‘heritage’ tag protects the bungalows and chawls from being redeveloped, it cannot prevent them from degradation, owing to poor maintenance.
Consequently, the Trust is encouraging people who value heritage, to buy the bungalows in the area. The group is working on the premise that if the buyer values heritage and is financially strong to maintain these bungalows, then, the area would not lose its charm.
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Civic body should be sensitive
The Trust has also asked URBZ and the Institute of Urbanology, to develop a plan for the future of the area. They have also mooted the idea of developing the 150-year-old chawls of the area into hotels, which would give them a new look.
While many European cities have showcased themselves as heritage destinations, to attract foreign tourists and earn money, such initiatives are lacking in India. Experts point out that the civic body also has to play an important role, in the maintenance and conservation of these areas. “Problems arise when the civic officials have no knowledge of the historical importance of a place and take decisions arbitrarily,” says Ferreira, whose only wish is to save Khotachiwadi from land sharks.
“South Mumbai needs to be preserved. We need to freeze the skyline in many places, as all cities internationally have done. We have a city that can still be among the most beautiful in the world,” he concludes.