Real estate twist to Mumbai monk’s death

by Madhurima Nandy, Hindustan Times, January 8, 2008

Mumbai, India -- While the real estate boom in many parts of Mumbai is in your face, a less conspicuous transformation in the city’s northeastern corner has suddenly been thrust into the limelight with the mysterious death of a Dalit monk over the weekend.

Over the past two years, builders have been vying with one another to redevelop huge slum colonies in the northeastern suburbs of Chembur, Deonar, Ghatkopar (east), Govandi and Mankhurd that are mostly occupied by Dalits.

These Dalit colonies in northeast Mumbai, often viewed as the city’s shabby backyard, have emerged as the new frontier for the lucrative business of slum redevelopment. Real estate prices here have more than doubled over 2007 to between Rs. 6,000 and Rs. 10,000 a square foot.

The monk, Bandan Sangharaj Thero, 76, who was found dead in a small monastery in Govandi, was protesting against a slum redevelopment scheme, local residents said. The police registered his death as a case of murder, and on Monday said that they had questioned KL Lakdawala, the builder against whose scheme Thairo was protesting.

“With hardly any land available in western Mumbai, builders have started looking at the northeastern pockets, where there are large tracts of land and a much better road network,” said Hemant Shah, chairman of Akruti Nirman, a building firm that is involved in slum redevelopment projects across the city.

Slum redevelopment is extremely lucrative, but many projects are mired in allegations of corruption.

Redeveloping the Dalit colonies of northeastern Mumbai similarly promise to be highly lucrative. They not only occupy some of the last contiguous stretches of land in the city but are also located close to the city's two arterial roadways -- Eastern Express Highway and Sion-Panvel Highway.

Builders have bought at least 160 acres of slum in this area, according to an expert at real estate consultancy. The redevelopment projects are in various stages of obtaining approvals from the state government’s Slum Rehabilitation Authority.

Building firms began lapping up land in this area by the end of 2005, when real estate prices in Mumbai started soaring. By the end of 2006, several builders had already sealed the fate of various slum colonies in the northeastern suburbs.