The perilous sprint from mills to malls

Bindu D Menon Mumbai | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on December 29, 2017

Lack of planning, poor infrastructure blamed for Kamala Mills fire tragedy

The devastating fire at a mill compound-turned-commercial hub in the coveted secondary business district of Lower Parel here raises serious questions about infrastructure and urban planning, say industry watchers.

For starters, even though the defunct mill land has turned into a swanky entertainment and food and beverages (F&B) destination with gleaming glass façades, lack of proper planning and poor infrastructure are the bane of the locality.

The victims of today’s blaze — at a rooftop pub — included a woman celebrating her 29th birthday and many of her friends, officials said. The massive blaze engulfed the entire building in about 30 minutes and took several hours to be put out. The cause of the fire is not known yet, said agency reports.

“This is a textbook case of the collapse of urban planning,” said Chandrasekhar Prabhu, noted urban planner and activist. “When the government embarked on the redevelopment of about 900 acres of mill land, the views of urban planners and citizens were not taken into consideration. We have pointed out that there is no semblance of planning and many such tragedies are bound to happen.”

‘Unplanned development’

Some key developers BusinessLine spoke to said on condition of anonymity that though it is prime land, there was no proper planning.

Netizens also came out in full force to voice their anger. They alleged that licences were granted to pubs and restaurants in the Kamala Mills compound without ensuring provisions for fire safety.

A Colliers report pegged Lower Parel rentals at ₹140-190 per sq ft a month. Industry data suggest that five years ago, the rentals were ₹275-325 per sq ft a month. It has been falling because of oversupply. Currently, the occupancy stands at about 60 per cent.

The mill redevelopment started in early 2004-05, when National Textile Mill began selling mill land for commercial purposes. Mumbai had close to 130 mills from the early 1900s till about 2000s. Popular mills such as Kamala Mills, Phoenix Mills, Dawn Mills , Zenzi Mill, Todi Mill and Raghuvanshi Mills have been turned into entertainment and commercial establishments and haute real estate apartments.

According to estimates, the total prime mill land encompasses an area of about 600 acres.

“Apart from the F&B players present within Palladium Mall and High Street Phoenix, F&B spaces operating in some of the nearby mills and along the high street also see brisk business throughout the year,” Karan Singh Sodhi, MD, (Mumbai), JLL India, wrote in a recent report.

“While 42 F&B brands operate out of the Victoria-Kamala Mills compound alone, another 12 are based within the Todi Mills compound.

“Twenty more operators are located along the high street stretch of Senapati Bapat Marg.”

Sodhi further said F&B players have been dominating retail leasing activity, with premium malls being the main target for spaces across India.

Probe ordered

Even as Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has ordered a probe into the fire, BJP member Kirit Somaiya has blamed alleged collusion between municipal authorities and business owners for violation of fire safety regulations.

As per available data, Mumbai also scores low on amenity space, with only 0.03 acre per 1,000 citizens against 12 acre in London, 17 acre in Washington and 15 acres in Moscow.

Published on December 29, 2017
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