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Better by design

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The Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) is working hard at uplifting residents to live a better life and make the inhabitable-unsafe cluster hospitable

by Jayashree Mendes

I f one is serious about doing some corporal works of mercy, then visiting the sick, harbouring the harbourless, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, would be part of one’s routine. It is only then that one can feel and understand the pain of human suffering and anguish and, if one is really interested, then one would also consider ways to alleviate their afflictions. Such acts of mercy were common and a way of life for the late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (the present Syedna’s father). Having lived for years in the heart of Bhendi Bazaar, he was deeply concerned about the way people lived and decided that he needed to do something to improve their lives.
So in 2009, when the Maharashtra government came up with the cluster redevelopment plan, the late Syedna saw a ray of hope. The Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) was formed and the sole purpose was upliftment of the people living in the neighbourhood. Of course, it was no small feat. But the Trust had full faith in its people and knew that slowly, but ably, when the challenges came, they would overcome it.

On a winning streak
Consider the inherent challenges of the estimated Rs 4,000 crore project. The project is spread over 65,880m2, which includes 280 plots that house 245 buildings. In all there are 3,200 residential tenements and 1,250 shops. Convincing them to relocate to transit homes and shops while existing buildings are demolished to make way for new buildings that bring with it slightly larger homes of up to 300 sq-ft from the 125 sq-ft or less they were used to living in and making them owners of these homes from tenancy can be tedious.
Abbas Master, CEO, SBUT, says, “The rules of the Maharashtra cluster redevelopment policy states that a project can be started with the approval of 70% residents and owners of the building, and we managed to get that done. That made life easy and we got a Letter of Intent (LoI) for the project in 2011. That set the ball rolling.”
An LoI is just an intent. Over the next couple of years, the SBUT slowly understood the minute clauses of cluster redevelopment policies when they had to embark on the hundreds of permissions required from numerous authorities, besides the agony of dealing with sceptics who could have stood in the way of development. Since this was the Maharashtra government’s first tryst with cluster redevelopment, it was left to the Trust to figure out the various clearances required such as environment and meeting the high-rise committee before they could forge ahead. But they dealt with every problem stoically.
It then began scouting for architects and master planner who would then design the entire area as it should be done. There were several sentiments that needed to be considered, mainly, religious and sentimental ones.
Master says, “Although the Trust played out the entire vision, execution, we knew that we needed professionals to manage the whole redevelopment. We began recruiting people from all fields and appointed consultants. In early 2010, Adil Zainulbhai, former chair of McKinsey India, and a member of the trust board convened large meetings with players from around the world to tell them about the project. We then held a competition to select the master planner. MQA is master planner and architect for the entire project, while Roland Baer is the consulting architect. Perkins Eastman is consultant architect while Systra MVA Consulting (India) are traffic consultants for the programme. Considering that we were keen to make it a green development, we roped in Aecom as building consultant.”
The SBUT was clear about a few things in keeping with the late Syedna’s orders — when you deal with projects of this size, remember people also come with it. And people have emotions. Moreover, they need to understand what they are getting in return if you are asking them to relocate to a new place for a few years till the project is completed bit by bit. So when the Trust began building transit camps across the city (not far from their existing homes), they ensured that they were offering them all the amenities that were hitherto absent from their lives. “We even assured them that they need not pay for electricity or gas or water. And though we managed very well with the residences, it is a difficult task to ask holders of commercial properties to move,” says Master.
The SBUT heaved a huge sigh of relief when government authorities came visiting the camps and commended them on what they had achieved. Little did SBUT realise that this project would go on to become a benchmark for future redevelopments in the state, and possibly the country.

A step-by-step approach
The master plan has been broken into nine sub-clusters and each sub-cluster will be independent and contain sustainability features. That means each sub-cluster will have an STP, rain water harvesting, solar panels, back up power, etc. In terms of design, the buildings have been oriented in such a way that most face north and south rather than east and west so that they don’t get direct heat from the sunlight. besides that, SBUT is devising mechanisms to control the internal ambient temperature by using an air-water heater that will convert heat from the air into hot water and thus reduce the use of geysers.
In terms of roads, the architects have planned for broad roads that will encourage walking. There are plans to plant trees on the ground and even on the podium. The podium is being created in such a way that it will be G+2 that will contain shops below and 3-4 levels of parking. Two buildings will rise on a podium. The centre portion will be left open to sky and fresh air. The Trust has also remembered to keep piping underground with a suction for the garbage that would then segregate organic and inorganic.
Master says, “Throughout the course, we involved people for their views and considering that Bhendi Bazaar is reputed for its shopping and street food, we considered the people’s views when they rooted for shops on the periphery of the building so that it will offer easy access to shoppers and also allow them to move across the 6 ½ acres and do their shopping without hitting the road. We formed a trust of 25 persons who represent various trades and consult them regularly.”
The Trust has approval to connect all the sub-clusters at the second shopping level. There are plenty of firsts that are happening and will continue to happen. It was a great victory to get a certification from the Indian Green Building Council early on.
The SBUT feels immense pride when it looks back at some of the achievements and all because it not only acted swiftly, but also that its project project was being followed in the War room of the Maharashtra Chief Minister. It is happy that the government wants this project to see the light of day. So that this can become a model for others to follow.
It is important what one thoroughly planned project can do for an economy. Master says, “We have kept the grid open and any developer seeking to do an extension to our project is welcome to do so. So while we have done our best to maintain the identity of Bhendi Bazaar, we have also changed the landscape and the skyline. Currently work is happening on sub cluster three and one.”
Clearly, SBUT is providing the residents of Bhendi Bazaar a ladder into a better world. Once the project is complete, the inhabitants will have to do their bit for a better life.

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