Systematic neglect of built form

The public perception of Kamathipura being an immoral place eclipses the stories of the struggles that different migrant communities have forged in trying to make a home in the city. Kamathipura’s ill-repute hides the stigma and utter neglect the neighbourhood has faced over time. Buildings frequently collapse, godowns and shops catch fire due to lack of repair and maintenance.

The peculiar character of Kamathipura is that most of the buildings are extremely old, dilapidated and are regulated by the Rent Control Act, also known as “cessed buildings” under Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority even though they may be privately owned. Plots abutting lanes are narrow and yet, buildings are densely inhabited making private redevelopment of single buildings unfeasible. While tenants have thus been protected from increase in rents or evictions, landlords have let these buildings fall into severe disrepair.

  • Study Area
  • Cessed Buildings
  • Buildings being repaired or redeveloped by MHADA
  • Buildings being redeveloped by private developers

The extreme density, congestion and lack of open spaces has prompted the State to propose demolition of dilapidated buildings to create parks and gardens in successive Development Plans. Yet, these plans have remained largely on paper. In the meantime, the neighbourhood has become more congested, residential quarters have been converted to manufacturing uses putting a strain on the meagre infrastructure, especially water and sanitation.

DP 1991 showing proposal to demolish buildings, widen roads and increase open spaces In Kamathipura
Existing land use map in 2015 (based on field observations) show heavy mixed land use, densely built up area, and no implementation of 1991 DP

The state government has not been able to keep up with the demands of repair and reconstruction. Many inhabitants have been stranded in faraway transit camps for decades while their buildings in Kamathipura remain stuck in reconstruction mode. Unscrupulous private developers have left buildings redeveloped half-way leaving residents struggling in expensive rental accommodations.

New shops and rapid conversion of living areas to workshops inside Kamathipura have made the area congested and unlivable. The lack of open spaces, proper sanitation, or enough road space to walk leads to a chaotic environment. The residents, especially the middle class tenants, feel neglected and increasingly trapped.

Buildings in various stages of disrepair, abandonment, repair, reconstruction and demolition
Buildings in various stages of disrepair, abandonment, repair, reconstruction and demolition
Buildings in various stages of disrepair, abandonment, repair, reconstruction and demolition
Buildings in various stages of disrepair, abandonment, repair, reconstruction and demolition
Buildings in various stages of disrepair, abandonment, repair, reconstruction and demolition

The story of Naya Manzil

We trace this urban trajectory of Kamathipura’s slow and violent neglect through a fictional building called Naya Manzil and the fate of its imagined inhabitants over the last two centuries.


Kamathipura, a marshy area on the edge of the Fort area is inhabited by the poor labouring construction workers called Kamathis from Andhra.

Naya Manzil is a two storey building on the 11th Lane of Kamathipura. It has six rooms - three on each floor. The landlord lives in a large room on the first floor. The other rooms are leased out to tenants. A rickety wooden staircase connects the two floors. The lane in front of the building is still a temporary unmetalled narrow lane. Men are seen relaxing on the lane. There are hardly any women on the streets.

Landlord’s story

I worked for eight years as a construction worker in the Fort. Then I bought this plot of land from a local landowner. Land is cheap here. The sahibs are not interested in living here. I built a two storey house. I rent out five rooms and stay in one room with my family.

Renter’s story

I arrived in Kamathipura looking for work. I found shelter in my uncle’s house in Kamathipura. I share the room with ten other boys. They are from my village. We cook together on the street outside the building. I work in the mills in Girgaum as a coolie. The work is tiring. I dream of becoming a big man some day like my uncle. I miss my family back home. Life in the city is hard, but it is also exciting and full of opportunities.


Bombay is an important commercial port in the international trade route controlled by the British. The Fort area has developed exclusively for the colonial rulers and the upper class natives in the trade sector. Kamathipura has become a tolerated red light zone where European women rent rooms to earn money through commercial sex work.

Two of the ground floor rooms of Naya Manzil have been turned into brothels. The landlord lives with his family on the first floor. The rest of the rooms are occupied by mostly male migrant tenants working in the mills.


I have lived in Naya Manzil for many decades now. My uncle generously rented out one of the smaller rooms for me and my wife when I brought her back from the village. My wife began to cook for our household and she would provide food to the other tenants as well. She occupied the landing near the staircase to set up the kitchen

European sex worker’s story

I am from Europe. I used to live in Cursetji Sukhlaji Street earlier. It is called Safed Gulli as many of my East European sisters took up residence there. But the local residents do not like us. They call us loose immoral and wanton women. They complain against us and the sailors and soldiers who visit us.


Bombay has been developing rapidly after India’s Independence. The mills have diversified and attract labour from all over India. Many working class families settle in Kamathipura. Communities from different regions have begun to stake their claim by building their religious and community spaces. Brothels continue to do brisk business, alongside mujra houses, opium dens, Irani tea houses, and the profusion of small trades such as radio and watch repairers, perfumers, tailors, paan walas etc.

The current landlord has added one more floor to Naya Manzil to house more tenants. Three rooms on the ground floor function as brothels. A tailor has occupied the verandah. The residents have built a shrine right next to the house.


The BMC has promised to redevelop the neighbourhood. It is necessary. The building needs repair but after the Rent Control Act came into force, I don’t have the money for repairs. But the wooden staircase is rotting. BMC is calling Kamathipura a slum but we are a decent and hardworking neighborhood. We have our Samaj, our festivities. We have built temples and schools and a community hall for our people. We try to keep our buildings clean. We are not a slum. We are the respectable poor.

Renter’s story

The building desperately needs repairs. It is almost 100 years old! My family has been living on rent in this building for almost 80 years. We are ten members in my family. We share a room that is barely 8 by 10 square feet. I often sleep on the street on my khatiya! There is no toilet facility for us within our apartment - this makes life difficult for our womenfolk. There is no privacy. The waste keeps piling up in the alleys and is a health hazard.

Brothel madam’s story

I see to it that the kotha is clean and that the girls are protected from the police raids. I collect a commission from the girls in the kotha in return of giving them a space to stay. Its important for the kothas to be at the street level in order to attract customers. Women are brought here from remote parts of India. Most of the women are destitute, landless labourers or abandoned.


The Development Plan of Mumbai 1991 enabled the entry of private developers in real estate development through significant relaxation in the land and property regulation regimes. Mills were steadily torn down and redeveloped into high end housing and commercial complexes. MHADA undertook a massive survey in 1980s to formulate a large scale redevelopment plan to transform Kamathipura. But the plan was shelved for lack of finances. This period was also marked by the forcible removal of commercial sex workers because of HIV AIDS and the slow but steady conversion of the brothels to small manufacturing spaces.

The ground floor of Naya Manzil has undergone changes. One room functions as a go-down, one room as a clothes shop. Only one room on the ground floor continues as a brothel. There is one room on the first floor that is a bag manufacturing unit. Rooms have been partitioned and mezzanine structures have been built to create loft spaces or sleeping spaces.

Renter’s story

My family has for generations occupied rooms in Naya Manzil. But after the mills closed down, I had no work. Neither did my son. So we decided to sub-lease one of the rooms and start a cloth business on the street in front of our house. My wife joined the other women from the community in making beedis which brought in some extra income for the family and helped us to survive the city.

Sex worker’s story

AIDS has wiped out many of us. Clients stay away because they are afraid of catching it. Even the landlords are scared. Earlier there were many of us in Naya Manzil. But the landlord and the mausi have emptied the other room and turned it into a godown. The NGO didis and the police have been trying to stop trafficking and rehabilitating the younger girls. There are fewer new girls in this line now.


Mumbai is a transformed city with much of the mill lands in the Island city converted to real estate. Dance bars have been banned in 2005 as a way of sanitizing the city. The fringes of Kamathipura too have undergone rapid transformation making way for tall towers and malls. Naya Manzil undergoes structural repairs and partial demolition and is reduced to a two storey building. There is a jeans dyeing unit on the terrace. The brothel on the ground floor has been turned to a bag manufacturing unit.


It has become dangerous to continue to live in Naya Manzil. It is an unsafe building. It cannot be repaired. It needs to be demolished and rebuilt. But this has been in my family for almost five generations and this neighbourhood is my community. Where will I go? I want the building to be redeveloped. I don’t want to go to a transit camp.

Tenant’s views

Naya Manzil is in a very poor condition. As an old building, it doesnt have basic minimum facilities such as private toilets or parking spots. We are hoping that the entire neighbourhood will undergo private redevelopment. But the landlords don’t want to agree to the terms and conditions. They want bigger flats and more compensation. It is a frustrating situation.

Sex worker’s story

I was working and living in Naya Manzil till four years back. The landlord shut the brothel and threw us out. I now live in Nalla Sopara and commute to Kamathipura by train.

Jeans workers views

I am from UP. I have been working in the jeans recycling units in Kamathipura’s Stable Street since 1993. Recently one of the units shifted to the terrace of Naya Manzil. I have to climb two flights of stairs with heavy drums of water or bundles of jeans. On the terrace we usually dry the dyed jeans. I live on the terrace with five other migrants from my village.


After the frenetic pace of Mumbai’s transformation into a world class city between 1995 and 2005, the real estate market seems to have slowed down. Therefore many large and small scale redevelopment projects across the island city are stuck or have been scrapped. Naya Manzil is already showing signs of extreme disrepair. The facade is almost falling off. The jeans dyeing unit has been removed by BMC. The godown on the ground floor has been transformed into a second bag making unit. Sex workers occupy the street.


Many of us have been trying to redevelop our buildings individually. But the builders kept saying our plots are too narrow, there are too many tenants and so it is not feasible for them. We were not getting a good deal either in terms of the size of our proposed flats. Finally, we realised we had to come together and form an association. Now we are deciding to develop Kamathipura collectively. We want a cluster redevelopment plan for Kamathipura.

TENANT’S story

This redevelopment will rid us of the “daag” forever. We will also have bigger and new flats with in built toilets and open spaces. The sex workers are all over the streets now making it harder for us to access our own neighbourhood. We feel unsafe in our own neighbourhood. The migrant men working in the factory units bathe in the open. It makes us uncomfortable.

Street based sex workers’s view

It has become increasingly difficult to work in Kamathipura. Many of us prefer to work in the peripheral areas of the city - Vashi, Turbhe , Panvel, Nalla Sopara. The residents are against us now.





Nala Sopara