Once a swamp, how the Bandra Kurla complex became Mumbai’s main business and meeting place
We generally hold our government in more than healthy skepticism. The sarkari system is seen as inefficient, incompetent, wasteful, mired in bureaucracy and corruption. Much of the journalism focuses on exposing and attacking this establishment. For good reason.
Yet, in this sea of despair, some ideas work. Typically, it needs a few crucial and virtuous factors to come together. Good politics and a good civil servant or two, but above all a great idea.
ThePrint journalists are on the lookout for such ideas, reporting and evaluating them, and also looking for lessons for the future.
Mumbai: Just 30 years ago, the area between Bandra and Kurla was an empty swamp along the Mithi River. In the years that followed, it was transformed into one of Mumbai’s major business hubs.
The culmination of a plan devised by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) now houses the full gamut of service sector multinationals, as well as foreign consulates.
It is also a must-visit destination known for its high-end restaurants. According to the MMRDA, the complex now provides more than 2 lakh jobs.
how it started
According to the MMRDA, it was a 1948 study, the Modak-Meyer report, which first suggested developing the lands of the Bandra-Kurla region into a “new center of activity”, in order to decongest the island. from Bombay and relieve the flow of traffic to the south. But it will take a few decades for this idea to find takers.
The Bombay Development Plan, 1964 also suggested the development of the area for a commercial complex, as did the Bombay Metropolitan Area Plan, 1970-1991 – which was accepted by the Maharashtra government in 1973.
Subsequently, the MMRDA was designated as the special planning authority for the development of the locality and began to draw up plans.
Speaking to ThePrint, MMRDA Metropolitan Commissioner SVR Srinivas said: “Previously Nariman Point was the only financial district here but there were (congestion) issues so we started developing BKC there. is about 47 years old. In fact, in 2025 we will celebrate BKC’s silver jubilee.
The complex, which will be built on 370 hectares (ha) of low land, was an entirely new project, without the constraints imposed by previous constructions. Different blocks have been planned for residential, commercial and government purposes.
At first, it seemed a daunting prospect. “Because of the swampy land and poor connectivity, no one wanted to go there initially,” urban planner Sulakshana Mahajan told ThePrint.
Connectivity remained a huge challenge for years, even when government facilities such as income tax offices, as well as a family court, were opened in the area.
“It was like a punishment for the government agents,” said Bharat Gothoskar, a city columnist who leads tours of Mumbai and its historic sites.
“And people were reluctant to move in. As late as 2003, I remember there was only one or two food stalls and it was pretty empty,” he said .
Srinivas said, “When we started this there were land reclamation issues. But any financial district of this size and scope takes time to mature. It cannot be developed overnight. Initially, there was no ecosystem. We have developed this.
Tenants move in
The main tenants of the BKC – the first companies to lease space in the complex – were ICICI Bank and the National Stock Exchange (NSE).
Slowly, around the turn of the century, multinationals began to arrive. Towards the end of the 2000s, the Bharat Diamond Bourse – the largest diamond exchange in the world – moved to BKC, as did the consulates of the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
And BKC finally got the feather in its hat when the US consulate moved from Breach Candy in south Mumbai in 2011.
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why it worked
Discussing the decision of the Bharat Diamond Bourse, Srinivas said, “Initially, few people were willing to come. I remember when I was the AMC (Additional Municipal Commissioner) more than ten years ago, the Bharat Diamond Bourse was not ready to come. They have a heritage in South Mumbai. They have an ecosystem there.
“Everything was ready here but they weren’t ready to come. We have responded to their concerns. So it took effort and convincing, and they came.
The availability of plenty of space has been a key factor in BKC’s growing appeal.
“It was a time when the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) industry was booming, and large multinational corporations like JP Morgan, Standard Chartered and HSBC, which had offices at Nariman Point, had need more space. And BKC provided that,” Pankaj Kapur, founder of Liases Foras, a real estate company, told ThePrint.
Mumbai airport is also nearby, and BKC rose to prominence after the turn of the millennium when people began to travel more and more, for business and otherwise, Mahajan said.
Kapur also said that while BKC was an entirely new project, another major business district, Lower Parel, was a previously used brownfield with limited space, and Nariman Point was already full.
Lower Parel was developed as a brownfield project about two decades ago. A locality dotted with land of mills and chawls, it was bought up by developers and suddenly became home to luxury towers, shopping malls and offices. But since the area was already congested, there wasn’t much room to improve connectivity, and traffic was still a problem. Meanwhile, options on BKC have opened up.
“And since many people lived north of Nariman Point, it became convenient for them to travel to Bandra,” Kapur added.
The last decade has seen the development of BKC accelerate even further. The area has also begun to take on a hybrid nature, with the proliferation of posh apartment complexes, and the schools and other facilities that flow from them. The CBI also opened an office there in 2016.
Usha Aurange and Pushpa Jadhav, who have run a food stall at the resort for 10 years as part of the Maharashtra government’s Women’s Empowerment Program (Mahila Audyogik Utpadak), can attest to this transformation.
“It was completely empty at the time. We were encouraged by the government to set up this food stall here as this place had hardly any restaurants. There were no toilets back then,” Aurange told ThePrint.
“It was very difficult for us, but now there are two public toilets that have been built in the last decade. The crowd grew and so did our stuff,” Jadhav said. They went from 4,000 to 5,000 rupees per month to almost 20,000 rupees.
Two Reliance offerings that opened this year and last year, the Jio World Drive mall and a convention center, are the latest attractions in BKC and attract many people from across the city.
Bhavishya Rao, a woman in her 30s who lives in the eastern suburb of Chembur, said that before, she used to go to Lower Parel in South Mumbai to hang out, but at For the past three years she has been a follower of BKC.
“The connectivity to the place is good. It’s very central, family-friendly and even has great restaurants, from Starbucks to fancy eateries. And with the opening of Jio World, it also accepts pets,” Rao said.
It is also a safe place, Rao added, with many guards and police around the area.
Speaking about future development, Srinivas said, “There is still room for BKC redevelopment. More pavilions, recreational activities. The maturation of the place is important, for which the government must intervene and assume the role of multi-actor management. This is the difference between Lower Parel and BKC – BKC is fed more.
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Upgrading social infrastructure
In the past, BKC’s problem was its connectivity. Commuters, especially office workers, could only rely on autorickshaws or taxis to get to the complex, as buses were few and far between. The last kilometer in particular proved to be a big challenge.
But the district is now at the heart of the city in terms of connectivity. As for the last mile, commuters can now use electric scooters introduced by MMRDA to reach the resort from Bandra and Kurla stations, two or three kilometers away.
Those coming from the eastern suburbs can take the Santacruz-Chembur link road or the new BKC-Chunabhatti flyover on the Eastern Expressway. The latest addition is the Kalanagar Flyover, which connects BKC to the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, and beyond to South Mumbai.
“But still, the complex is a bit difficult to access. What will really change BKC is the arrival of a metro line. Two major subway lines will intersect at BKC. It will have maximum attendance and make it really accessible to many people,” Gothoskar said.
The complex also includes residential areas, and real estate companies market it as a prime location with several top-notch schools, hospitals like the Asian Heart Institute and Wockhardt Multi-Specialty Hospital, and good connectivity. Adjacent areas also fall into the net – they are sold as “BKC Annexe”.
According to a report by real estate agency and consultancy firm Knight Frank India in 2021, the rental values of the office market in the Mumbai metropolitan area fell 8% year-on-year. However, at BKC, rental values remained unchanged due to the limited supply of Class A (highest quality) office space and growing demand.
“This will in my opinion remain the most upscale and prominent business center for another two decades unless a business center appears on BPT (Mumbai Port Trust) land and can be compared to Canary Wharf in London. Only then will he have the potential to displace BKC,” Gothoskar said.
Areas around BKC such as Kurla and Chembur are also flourishing. “People want to stay close to where they work, and that’s why real estate in places like Kurla, which are low-key, is booming,” Kapur said.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)
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