The Indira Dock, one of many along the 28-kilometers of waterfront controlled by the Mumbai Port Trust, lies less than a kilometer away from the heart of downtown Mumbai. The Megacity Initiative

In a megacity in desperate need of better planning, activists are calling for a more sustainable future for the Mumbai Port.

Mumbai is the economic powerhouse of India. The city constitutes over 6 percent of the country’s economy and is quickly establishing itself as an international financial center. This amazing growth, however, has done little to inspire a coherent planning vision for the metropolitan region. Private interests are carving the city into a jumbled mess in order to capitalize on surging land prices. Currently, proposals to redevelop the Mumbai Port have come under fierce debate as the city grapples with an unprecedented opportunity to build a brighter and more sustainable future.

Boats amass outside a fueling station on Princess Dock along the Mumbai Port. (The Megacity Initiative)

The Mumbai Port helped establish Mumbai as an industrial center for over a century. It sits on over 700 hectares of prime real estate stretching along the entirety of the city’s eastern waterfront. Its necessity to daily life is coming under greater scrutiny, though, as the Nhava Sheva Port across the harbor expands and becomes fully operational. Politicians, architects, and activists are calling for the land to be taken back from the Mumbai Port Trust, which answers to the Ministry of Shipping in New Delhi, instead of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai.

One of the most recent entries into the fray is APLI Mumbai, a citizen’s movement spearheaded by the efforts of Meera Sanyal, a politician and former CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland in India. APLI Mumbai has already drawn up extensive potential redevelopment plans in addition to those proposed by the Rani Jadhav government committee, the Indian architect Hafeez Contractor, and the Port Trust worker unions. Sanyal is also more immediately addressing the environmentally hazardous activities, including coal dumping, ship breaking, and chemical processing, that the Mumbai Port continues to accommodate despite its proximity to a major population center.

Mazagon Dock, India’s leading shipyard, looms above the Mumbai Port. (The Megacity Initiative)

This past September Sanyal, along with retired Vice Admiral I.C. Rao, filed a public interest lawsuit in the Bombay High Court to stop coal handling in Mumbai Port. “All kinds of dark activities take place there,” says Sanyal. “Right now they are dumping 1.8 to 2 million tons of coal every year. There are some very toxic ship breaking happening. And then there are all kinds of mafia and underworld activities which go on in the cover of darkness. The lands need to be reclaimed for the city of Mumbai.”

It is no secret that Mumbai’s growing pains continue to intensify with compounding traffic congestion, incessant pollution, and uncoordinated city planning. Quality of life for many communities is slipping. There is a desperate need for more open space, transportation options, and public housing. Extricating the Mumbai Port from the quagmire of private and political interests already in play will be a formidable task.

The Mumbai Port underutilizes massive amounts of space along the waterfront. (The Megacity Initiative)

Those seeking to redevelop the area in line with greater public interests still keenly remember the loss of the Mumbai cotton mill lands, where hundreds of acres of land earmarked for open space and public housing were lost to developers through a legislative loophole in 1991. Mustansir Dalvi, a professor of architecture at the Sir J. J. College of Architecture in Mumbai, hopes there will not be a repeat.

“Ideally what would happen is that you would break down the wall and allow people access to the water,” says Dalvi. “But you allow everyone access to the water, not only those who own the land. Transform it in ways that can move people to the sea, that can make people interact, that can bring people together, where you can have public institutions that belong to everyone. These are opportunities which are there, but would require the state to have amazing vision and magnanimity to make it happen.”

A redevelopment of the Mumbai Port that caters to public instead of private interests could not be more important to the city. Such a transformation would also set a new precedent for sustainable city planning across India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to tout his “smart city” concept around the country, and the Mumbai Port would be an ideal proving ground to realize such a vision. He is also likely the only person who could guide the Mumbai Port out of the hands of the Ministry of Shipping and into those who can redevelop it according to the needs of the municipality. The quality of life for millions of Mumbaikars depends on it.

Freight trucks line up outside the main docks in the Mumbai Port. (The Megacity Initiative)
Toxic ship breaking activities occur off of Lakdi Bunder in the Mumbai Port. (The Megacity Initiative)
The Mazagon Dock produces warships and submarines for Indian Navy. (The Megacity Initiative)
Up to 2 million tons of coal are dumped in the Mumbai Port every year. (The Megacity Initiative)
Sensitive mangrove forests along the northern edge of the Mumbai Port continue to be degraded.(The Megacity Initiative)
The Mazagon Dock also produces offshore oil platforms as well as large freight and passenger ships near downtown Mumbai. (The Megacity Initiative)

Reporting for this story was made possible with support from The Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, the MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism, and The Megacity Initiative.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A person tapes an eviction notice to the door of an apartment.
    Equity

    Why Landlords File for Eviction (Hint: It’s Usually Not to Evict)

    Most of the time, a new study finds, landlords file for eviction because it tilts the power dynamic in their favor—not because they want to eject their tenants.

  2. A photo of a Google employee on a bicycle.
    Equity

    How Far Will Google’s Billion-Dollar Bay Area Housing Plan Go?

    The single largest commitment by a private employer to address the Bay Area’s acute affordable housing crisis is unique in its focus on land redevelopment.

  3. Equity

    Berlin Will Freeze Rents for Five Years

    Local lawmakers agreed to one of Europe’s most radical rental laws, but it sets the stage for a battle with Germany’s national government.

  4. Environment

    Paris Wants to Grow ‘Urban Forests’ at Famous Landmarks

    The city plans to fill some small but treasured sites with trees—a climate strategy that may also change the way Paris frames its architectural heritage.

  5. A map showing the affordability of housing in the U.S.
    Equity

    Minimum Wage Still Can’t Pay For A Two-Bedroom Apartment Anywhere

    The 30th anniversary edition of the National Low Income Housing Coalition report, “Out of Reach,” shows that housing affordability is getting worse, not better.

×