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Story of a changing pocket of Mumbai, buried under stampede

By PTI
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    Mumbai, September 30: Hiloni Dedhia, 24, embodied the soaring aspirations of a millennial working in a setting with imposing glass facade towers that spawn a thousand dreams, till the time the deadly Elphinstone Road railway station stampede snuffed out her life.

    The deadly Elphinstone Road railway station stampede. PTI file photo

    The steel-and-glass towers that dot central Mumbai's skyline, drawing in lakhs of people every day, also explain the tragedy that struck the megapolis yesterday, extinguishing at least 22 lives on a narrow foot overbridge linking Parel and Elphinstone Road stations.

    Far from the massive rush of people, the cotton mills in this pocket gave Mumbai its identity--Manchester of the East-- where people worked at their own pace in textile mills, with chimneys billowing smoke and sirens blaring, indicating change of shifts.

    After the 1980s, the mills began giving way to skyscrapers as the restless Maximum City's dreams grew bigger in the quest of affluence.

    Dedhia worked in the corporate relations department of Axis Bank, and was on her way to work from home in the northeastern suburb of Ghatkopar when she got caught in the stampede, her uncle told PTI outside hospital morgue.

    Axis Bank's corporate headquarters is housed in the Bombay Dyeing Compound, walking distance from Elphinstone Road railway station, where the offices of airline GoAir, media firm Republic TV and the country's first Hard Rock Cafe are also located.

    The nearby Century Mills Compound houses Idea Cellular and the Playboy Café. There are many such 'mill compounds' here. The textile strike a decade before Dedhia's birth broke the back of mills, leading to their demise. But the land turned into a goldmine, located as it were in the heart of the city.

    The landscape began to change rapidly in 2005 when the first mill land was cleared for commercial development. Mill owners switched to sectors like pharma, aviation, realty, while a few sold out to real estate companies. The developers bought transfer of development rights by buying FSI from the open market, and erected huge skyscrapers.

    According to property consultant JLL, the tiny locality has a 'Grade A' built-up office space of 13.5 million sq ft today, up from 2.96 million in 2005. If one goes by the thumb rule of 100 sq ft per person, the area could be home to 1.35 lakh working people, JLL research head Ashutosh Limaye told PTI. And many more glass-and-steel towers are coming up, making it one of the most busy construction sites in Mumbai.

    The upcoming towers in the vicinity include the country's first Trump Tower, and the 101-storey World Tower, which would be the country's tallest. But the infrastructure remains caught up in a time warp.

    "The mills were never so high and had a lot of open space. The number of people employed also was much lower than today. There were also duty shifts, which ensured less crowding at any time of the day," a septuagenarian local says.

    "There is a war-like situation every day here on the foot overbridge during the morning and evening rush hour. People have to fight a war to take the stairs to come out or enter the station," said Arun Tiwari, who is the regional head of a marketing company. Another passenger, Satish Paul, said, "People have increased but not the infrastructure."

    The old and rickety infrastructure today looked bursting at seams as people toppled over each other, getting crushed and smothered in the process. After her dream died young, Dedhia's aunt and uncle waited patiently at the KEM Hospital, clutching her grey-coloured handbag, for the statutory postmortem to get over and receive her body.

    Less than two kilometres away, the surging crowds at the two railway stations continued to muscle their way to platforms and into crammed trains, the trauma of the tragedy just fitfully crossing their mind.

    PTI

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