Boa Vida, Bombaim, Bombahia, Bombay, Bambai, Mumbai. ese are just a few of the names that India’s financial capital has been known by in the 346 years since it was given to the British as part of the Spanish Infanta Catherine’s dowry when she married Charles II in 1661. The city has grown from a cluster of seven sleepy shing villages inhabited by Koli tribesmen to a shining metropolis to a slum town and a melting pot of cultures.
Seven years into the 21st century, the city seemingly stands at a crossroad that many argue could be beginning of its decline… Unless one takes the contrary view that it can only get better from here.
Mumbai grew rapidly from the middle of the 19th century onwards, and established itself as the premier centre for economic activity in the country—with manufacturing and trading its primary activities. The cotton mills in central Mumbai sprang up around this time. Much of the city came up around the port and the mills.
Even as its outer façade mirrored the grandeur of the Raj, by the 1890s, the contradictions between the inner and the outer began to surface as congestion in the inner city areas grew, leading to the plague epidemic of 1896.
The British then set up the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT), which for the rst time began to look at decongesting the city. BIT rebuilt chawls, widened roads and built new ones in inner-city areas.
But very little has been added to the city’s infrastructure since then. Says Anuj Puri, chairman of real estate consulting rm Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj, “the city administration has not initiated any worthwhile infrastructure project in the last 60 years. Whatever we have today was built by the British.”
Ajit Ranade, chief economist of the Aditya Birla Group, says the city has the resilience to reinvent itself yet again.“As new opportunities open up, more people will come into the city. ese people will be from everywhere and all economic strata. And they will put pressure on the system for better deliveries. I don’t think Mumbai has a choice other than to get its act in place.”
Counters Sanjay Ubale, ocer on special duty in the state chief minister’s oce, “Often plans are changed based on feedback from the people, the end-users.” Ubale is in charge of Mumbai’s infrastructure projects.
The acute shortage of land is one of the biggest stumbling blocks, forcing the majority of the city’s poor to live in slums, and the slightly better off to reside in far-off suburbs and cope with a two-hour commute to and from work.
“The only solution for the government is to scrap the Urban Land Ceiling Act and release more land into the market,” says Ranade.
So what draws people to the city despite all its shortcomings?
Says Ranade, “No other city in India gives you the same kind of opportunities. Despite its bottlenecks and problems, Mumbai is the one place where people head when they want to make a mark.”
Adds Ubale, “It is the city’s spirit—of entrepreneurship and rewarding merit. It is the only city in the country where you can still expect to make it to the top on merit.That is the glamour of Bombay.”