Home Cheap Home in Mumbai
mad realty prices and its middle class’ long commutes hide a big
change: the development of decent, affordable housing and good
infrastructure in the city’s flanks. Soon water transport may provide an
alternative to smelly trains
:: Uday Khandeparkar Mumbai
City is now just for two classes of people — the prosperous and the
penniless. All the rest take the 6:22 fast to Bhayandar or Kalyan, which
is the local train carrying them from work to home in the ultradistant
suburbs that until 10 years ago were grazing pastures for buffaloes.
Though the bovines are gone, the cattle
connection remains as Mumbai’s populace is transported in smelly rail
carriages packed two heads per square foot. People, who are slightly
well off, travel for hours in hatchback cars to reach their 800-sq-ft
homes in Borivali and Thane.
Apartments between Andheri and Borivali now come between 12,000
and 25,000 a sq ft, making it a shocking 2.5 crore ($500,000) at the
top of the range for a 1,000-sq-ft flat, which actually comes to 700 sq
ft because of the super-built-up swindle. In one word, it’s “Mad”. Flats
south of Mahim start at 30,000 and go up to more than a 1,00,000 a sq
why, only the two above-mentioned classes have newly-acquired dwellings
in Mumbai. The rich in swanky apartments and the poor under plastic
sheets strung up on three sticks on the sidewalk.
The Good News
But here’s some good news — life for the people
taking the railway home in crushing discomfort is not all that bad.
They have cleaner air, far better roads, decent water supply and power,
great vistas of nature and most importantly, they don’t pay 2.5 crore to
stay in a garage.
The Mira-Virar segment on Mumbai’s western flank and the Sanpada-Khargar belt on the city’s eastern side are providing decent housing and great infrastructure to the millions thronging Mumbai for jobs.
for instance, has a 198-acre park landscaped like London’s Hyde Park
and New York’s Central Park. It has an 18-hole golf course and CIDCO, the local authority, has recently given out tenders to develop a hill in the region into a worldclass amusement city.
to the park and the golf course is a site where the International
Society for Krishna Consciousness is building one of its opulent
temples, the kind they have all over the world.
Khargar is also
home to the Tata Memorial Cancer Research Centre and to several top
educational institutions, spurring the authorities to stamp it as a
Flats in Khargar currently sell between 5,500
and 6,000 per sq ft in buildings with very basic amenities. But some
developers think that Khargar is now attractive enough to people who
want larger flats with class and could pay up to 8,000 a sq ft with
ticket sizes going up to 1.5 crore for an apartment.
Gangs to Homes
the western side, the Mira Road to Virar area has had a similar story
of phenomenal growth, though with a lag compared with Sanpada and
Khargar. Mira-Virar’s delayed growth was due to the pres- ence
of gangsters who found the salt pans, swamp land and creeks flowing
into the Arabian Sea an ideally solitary place to bring in dhows of
gold, watches, terylene fabric for bell-bottom pants and later
Economic liberalisation in 1992 put paid to this
business as all of that much sought-after merchandise, except drugs,
became legally available in India. Known as “bhai”, or brother, these
peddlers became politicians and businessmen. Why a bandit is given the
endearing title of brother remains a mystery, but their family-owned
land banks did spur them to develop the region.
At that time
when only thieves and dogs dared strut in the area, flats there could
sell at not more than 700 a sq ft and even then it had to be a fairly
desperate man to put down his money.
This made it unviable for
builders as the marshy land there required piling to reach rock 80 feet
below. That cost 200 a sq ft. At 700 a sq ft sale price, it was
senseless. At 5,500 a sq ft, which is the current prevailing price in
Mira Road, it works like honey. The desperate man of the early 90s is
today sitting pretty with an eight-fold increase in asset value in 10
giddy rise in a decade has knocked off chances of further appreciation
in that quantum. Nevertheless, prices continue to rise with new projects
in Mira Road offered at 6,000 a sq ft. Neighbouring boroughs like Vasai
and Virar today go between 4,000 and 5,000.
development has historical roots as it was established even before
Mumbai was by the British. The region, including Nala Sopara, was a big
trading centre and harbour and is referred to as Ophir in the Old
Testament of the Bible. Teakwood from India’s western forests was
shipped from the ports here to the area, which is now Israel, and was
used in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Road’s development has more recent causative factors. It’s the railway
station immediately after the rail-head of Borivali and commuters zip
down there in autos and two-wheelers to get a seat on the train. That’s
provided they spring into the air and in the next instant cling on to
the train while it’s still rolling into the station at 30 kmph, with
neck ties and sari ends fluttering in victory.
The pincer growth
on either side has now just left a large patch called Naigaon in the
middle, where flats are now going at 3,500 a sq ft, making for flats
below 20 lakh. They are of basic quality but their virtue is they are
places where a couple with a combined income of 30,000 a month, and no family financial support, can still buy a home.
train, the travel time from Naigaon to various stations along the
Western line are: Borivli, 20 minutes; Andheri, 36; Bandra, 49; Dadar,
59; Mumbai Central, 70 and Churchgate, 81.
Its other advantage is that in a village called Juhichandra, the Diva-Thane line passes through, providing residents of Naigaon access to the Eastern Railway network.
has severe deficiencies too. There is no piped water supply, no sewage
and drainage system and a 12-hour power cut for one day each week. All
of this is annoying to residents who are taking solace from the recent
past for a glimpse into the future.
Mira Road, at 6,000 a sq ft,
had no water supply and survived on tanker-truck supplies. They didn’t
have sewage and sanitation systems either. Today, it’s all there, explaining why the desperado of the 90s is looking like a man with foresight.
infrastructure may come in faster than it did for Mira Road because the
Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation has been identified among a few dozen
other “near mega-city townships” across India for central
infrastructure funding under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal
With this money, work on piped water supply coming
from the Surya Dam to the Virar-Mira Road area has started. Similarly,
tenders have been awarded on a sewage disposal and drainage system.
Mira Road-Virar region is also set to complete a connectivity circle
the other way connecting to mainland Maharashtra with the building of a
126-km transport corridor to Alibaug.
On the suburban rail
network, Western Railway is expanding Mira-Virar to six tracks from
four, work is due to begin on the second phase of Mumbai’s Metro rail
going into this region and there’s a flyover connecting Naigaon east to
Along the Western Express Highway, six
out of eight flyovers between Mira Road and Virar have been completed,
providing excellent road connectivity to Mumbai city.
Water to Rescue
These paddy fields turned bustling townships are perhaps luckier than Bombay has been. In 1998, there used to be a hovercraft service from Juhu Beach to Chowpatty Beach with a one-way fare of 150.
service, provided by a private operator, was killed by vested interests
that feared that opening up water transport to and from Mumbai city
would mean people could live anywhere along the coastline in beautiful
surroundings at one-tenth of the cost. Who would then pay $500,000 for a
The hovercraft service was made unpopular by some
very simple techniques. No temporary walkways were allowed across the
beach to the vessel, which meant senior executives dressed in suits had
to waddle on sand to get to it and then spend 10 minutes emptying their
shoes. At Chowpatty, no shuttle services were provided to go to Nariman
Point, Ballard Estate and the other business precincts. Bombay’s first
marine commuters had to dart across the busy Marine Drive and then
desperately hail down cabs.
The city and its extended suburbs
may now have an alternative to the physical and olfactory challenges of
train travel as the Maharashtra government in March invited tenders for a
water transport system from Nariman Point to Borivali — the estimated
commute time between the two points being 50 minutes. Other
point-to-point services will be to Juhu, Bandra and Versova.
Hopefully, this time commuters won’t have to wear divers’ fins to get to the boat.
The writer, a former journalist, is founder of Realmark, a financial intermediary that advises global private
equity funds on real estate in India.
GREEN COVER: Khargar has a 198-acre park landscaped like London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park
apartments in Andheri (above) come between 12,000 and 25,000 a sq ft,
Mira-Virar and Sanpada-Khargar offer cheaper home options. The only
downside is jostling for space in the over-crowded local trains