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'Population Jumped, Infrastructure Same', Mumbai's Struggle For Survival

Mumbai:  She was on her way to work before the deadly Elphinstone Road railway station stampede took her life. 24- year-old Hiloni Dedhia was part of the corporate relations team of Axis Bank and embodied the soaring aspirations of millennials working in Mumbai. The tragedy that struck the ‘city of dreams’ yesterday, extinguished at least 22 lives on a narrow, rickety foot overbridge linking Parel and Elphinstone Road stations.

As Ms Dedhia’s aunt and uncle waited at the KEM Hospital, clutching her grey handbag, for the postmortem to get over and receive her body, less than two kilometres away, the surging crowds at the two railway stations continued to muscle their way to platforms and into crammed trains.

Far from the massive rush of people, the cotton mills in this pocket gave Mumbai its identity–Manchester of the East– where people worked at their own pace in textile mills, with chimneys billowing smoke and sirens blaring, indicating change of shifts. After the 1980s, the mills made way for skyscrapers as the restless Maximum City’s dreams grew bigger.

Axis Bank’s corporate headquarters, Ms Dedhia’s workplace, is housed in the Bombay Dyeing Compound, walking distance from Elphinstone Road railway station, where offices of many corporates and cafes are located. There are many such ‘mill compounds’ here. The textile strike a few decades ago finished the business. But the land located in the heart of the city soon turned into a goldmine.

The landscape began to change rapidly in 2005 when the first mill land was cleared for commercial development. Mill owners switched to sectors like pharma, aviation, realty, while a few sold out to real estate companies, which erected huge skyscrapers here.

According to property consultant JLL, the tiny locality has a ‘Grade A’ built-up office space of 13.5 million sq ft today, up from 2.96 million in 2005. If one goes by the thumb rule of 100 sq ft per person, the area could be home to 1.35 lakh working people, JLL research head Ashutosh Limaye told PTI.

Many more glass-and-steel towers are coming up, including the country’s first Trump Tower, and the 101-storey World Tower, which would be the country’s tallest. But the infrastructure facilities remain unchanged.

“The mills were never so high and had a lot of open space. The number of people employed also was much lower than today. There were also duty shifts, which ensured less crowding at any time of the day,” a septuagenarian local said.

“There is a war-like situation every day here on the foot overbridge during rush hour,” said Arun Tiwari, who is the regional head of a marketing company.

Another passenger, Satish Paul, said, “People have increased but the infrastructure has remained the same.”