Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam, on November 1, 2018, alleged that Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) commissioner Ajoy Mehta had facilitated the inclusion of iconic Dhobi Ghat in Mahalakshmi area under an SRA scheme, which he claimed would benefit private builders. He alleged that this move amounted to destroying the ‘national heritage’ of the site.
Touted as the world’s largest outdoor laundry and a popular tourist attraction, Dhobi Ghat was built in 1890. It was upgraded to a Grade-IIB heritage site in 2016. “Mahalakshmi’s Dhobi Ghat is a 140-year-old heritage site. How can the Dhobi Ghat, Shri Ram and Hanuman temple and the fish market be recognised as slums? It is the plan of the BMC to demolish these elements of national heritage, which is in turn, depriving the locals of their sources of livelihood and their houses too. Instead of redeveloping the actual slums of Mumbai, why are they redeveloping a heritage site?” questioned Nirupam. However, the BMC has denied the allegations, saying the SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) is the planning authority in this case.
Nirupam shared a letter dated August 13, 2018, with the media, which was purportedly written by chief engineer of development plan SP Darade to architect Anand Dhokay, proposing that the entire Dhobi Ghat, the existing temple and the surrounding open spaces, spread over a total area of 2,650 sq metres, be amalgamated and redeveloped under the SRA scheme. “If the history of Mumbai is to be written, it cannot be complete in a true sense, without stating the significance of the Dhobi Ghat. The BMC commissioner and some officials have formed a nexus with the private builders, for their own vested interests,” he alleged.
When contacted, a senior civic official of the BMC refuted the charges and said that entire matter falls within the purview of the SRA. “Development of Dhobi Ghat issue raised by Sanjay Nirupam pertains to SRA, which is the planning authority for this area. BMC is concerned only with certifying the eligibility of hutment dwellers. It is not understood, when entire matter falls within purview of SRA why he is raising fingers towards MCGM?” the official replied in a written response.