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Once a marshland, how Bandra Kurla Complex became Mumbai’s prime business & hangout hub

Now housing many multinational service firms, high-end restaurants and residential areas as well as foreign consulates, BKC’s development has been particularly rapid in the past decade.

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We generally hold our government in more than healthy scepticism. The sarkari system is seen as inefficient, incompetent, wasteful, mired in red tape and corruption. Much of journalism focuses on exposing this establishment and railing against it. 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 fine civil servant or two, but above all, a great idea. 
ThePrint’s reporters are on the lookout for such ideas, reporting and assessing them, and also searching for lessons for the future.

Mumbai: Just 30 years ago, the area between Bandra and Kurla was an empty marshland along the Mithi river. In the years since, it’s been transformed into one of Mumbai’s leading business hubs. 

The culmination of a plan conceived by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) now houses the whole gamut of service-sector multinationals, as well as foreign consulates.

It’s also a go-to destination known for its high-end restaurants. According to the MMRDA, the complex now provides more than 2 lakh jobs.

How it began

According to the MMRDA, it was a 1948 study, the Modak-Meyer Report, that first suggested developing the land in the Bandra-Kurla area as a “new centre of activity”, in order to decongest the island of Bombay and relieve the flow of traffic towards the south. But it would take a few decades for this idea to find purchase.

The Bombay Development Plan, 1964, also suggested the development of the area for a commercial complex, as did the Bombay Metropolitan Region Plan, 1970-1991 — which was accepted by the Maharashtra government in 1973.

Subsequently, the MMRDA was designated the special planning authority for the development of the locality, and started drawing up plans.

Speaking to ThePrint, MMRDA Metropolitan Commissioner S.V.R. Srinivas said, “Earlier, Nariman Point was the only finance district here, but there were problems there (of congestion) so we started developing BKC about 47 years back. In fact, in 2025, we will celebrate the silver jubilee of BKC.”

The complex, to be built on 370 hectares (ha) of low-lying land, was a greenfield project — without constraints imposed by previous construction. Different blocks were planned for residential, commercial, and governmental purposes.

Credit: ThePrint Team
Credit: ThePrint Team

At first, it seemed a daunting prospect. “Because of the marshy land and low connectivity, nobody wanted to go to the place initially,” city planner Sulakshana Mahajan told ThePrint. 

Connectivity remained a huge challenge for years, even as government facilities such as income tax offices, as well as a family court, were opened in the area.

“It was like a punishment posting for government officers,” said Bharat Gothoskar, a city chronicler who leads tours of Mumbai and its historic sites. 

“And people were reluctant to move in. As recently as 2003, I remember that there were just one or two food stalls and it was fairly empty,” he said. 

Srinivas said, “When we started this, there were issues of land reclamation. But any financial district of this size and scale takes time to mature. It can’t be developed overnight. Initially, there was no ecosystem. We developed that.”

Tenants move in

The BKC’s anchor tenants — the first companies to rent space in the complex — were ICICI Bank and the National Stock Exchange (NSE).  

Slowly, at the turn of the century, multinationals began to trickle in. Towards the end of the noughties, the Bharat Diamond Bourse — the world’s largest diamond exchange — set up shop at BKC, as did the consulates of the UK, Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. 

And BKC finally got the feather in its cap when the American consulate moved there from Breach Candy, South Mumbai, in 2011. 

A view of the Bandra Kurla complex in Mumbai | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint
A view of the Bandra Kurla complex in Mumbai | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint

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Why it worked

Discussing the Bharat Diamond Bourse’s move, Srinivas said, “Initially, not many people were ready to come. I remember when I was the AMC (additional municipal commissioner) over a decade ago, the Bharat Diamond Bourse was not ready to come. They have a legacy in South Mumbai. They have an ecosystem there.

“Everything was ready here but they weren’t ready to come. We addressed their concerns. So, it took efforts and convincing, and they came.”

The availability of plenty of space was a key factor in BKC’s growing appeal. 

“That was the time when the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector was booming, and big multinationals like JP Morgan, Standard Chartered and HSBC, which had offices in Nariman Point, needed a bigger space. And BKC provided that,” Pankaj Kapur, founder of Liases Foras, a real estate company, told ThePrint. 

Mumbai Airport is also close by, and BKC grew in importance after the turn of the millennium when people began to travel more and more, for business and otherwise, said Mahajan.

Kapur also said that while BKC was a greenfield 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 with mill lands and chawls, it was bought by developers and suddenly became home to luxury towers, malls, and offices. But since the area was already cluttered, there wasn’t much scope to improve connectivity, and traffic remained a problem. Meanwhile, options in BKC opened up.

“And since many people lived north of Nariman Point, it became convenient for them to travel to Bandra,” added Kapur. 

Accelerating development

The past decade has seen BKC’s development accelerate further. The area has also begun to take on a hybrid nature, with the mushrooming of swanky apartment complexes, and the attendant schools and other facilities. The CBI also opened an office there in 2016.

Usha Aurange and Pushpa Jadhav, who’ve run a food stall in the complex for the past 10 years under the Maharashtra government’s women empowerment scheme (Mahila Audyogik Utpadak), can testify to this transformation.

“It was completely empty back then. We were encouraged by the government to set up this food stall here as this place had hardly any restaurants. There was no toilet back then,” Aurange told ThePrint.

“It was very difficult for us, but now there are two public toilets that were built over the past decade. The crowd increased and so did our business,” said Jadhav. They’ve gone from earning Rs 4,000-5,000 a month to nearly Rs 20,000.

Usha Aurange and Pushpa Jadhav at their food stall in the Bandra Kurla Complex | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint
Usha Aurange and Pushpa Jadhav at their food stall in the Bandra Kurla Complex | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint

Two Reliance offerings that opened this year and last year, the Jio World Drive mall and a convention centre, are the BKC’s latest attractions, and draw a lot of people from across the city.

Bhavishya Rao, a woman in her early 30s who lives in the eastern suburb of Chembur, said that earlier, she used to visit Lower Parel in South Mumbai to hang out, but for the last three years, she has been a votary of BKC.

“The connectivity to the place is good. It is very central, family-friendly and even has good eateries from Starbucks to fancy dine-in places. And with the opening of Jio World, it is very pet-friendly too,” said Rao. 

It’s also a safe place, Rao added, with plenty of guards and police around the area. 

Speaking about future development, Srinivas said, “There is still scope for redevelopment in BKC. More clubhouses, recreational activities. Maturing the place is important, for which the government has to intervene and take up the multi-stakeholder management role. This is the difference between Lower Parel and BKC — BKC is more nurtured.”

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An upgrade in social infrastructure

Formerly, BKC’s problem was its connectivity. Commuters, especially office-goers, could only rely on autorickshaws or taxis to get to the complex, as buses were few and far between. The last mile in particular proved a big challenge.

But the area is now at the heart of the city in terms of its connectivity. As far as the last mile goes, commuters can now use the e-scooters introduced by the MMRDA to reach the complex from the Bandra and Kurla stations, two-three kilometres away.

Those travelling from the eastern suburbs can take the Santacruz-Chembur link road or the newly opened BKC-Chunabhatti flyover on the Eastern Express Highway. The latest addition is the Kalanagar flyover, which connects BKC to the Bandra-Worli sea-link, and beyond that to South Mumbai.

“But still, the complex is a bit difficult to access. What will really change BKC is the coming up of a Metro line. Two main Metro lines will cross at BKC. It will have maximum footfalls and will make it really accessible to many many people,” said Gothoskar.

A view of BKC in Mumbai | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint
A view of BKC in Mumbai | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint

The complex also includes residential areas, and real estate companies are marketing it as a prime location with several top-notch schools, hospitals like the Asian Heart Institute and Wockhardt multispeciality hospital, and good connectivity. Adjoining areas, too, fall in the net — they’re being sold as ‘BKC Annexe’.

According to a report by estate agency and consultancy Knight Frank India during 2021, rental values of the office market in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region dropped by 8 per cent year-on-year. However, in BKC, rental values remained unchanged because of the limited supply of Grade-A (highest quality) office spaces and rising demand.

“This will remain the most premium and main business centre for another two decades in my view, unless a business centre comes up on BPT (Mumbai Port Trust) land and can be compared to Canary Wharf in London. Only then will it have the potential to displace BKC,” said Gothoskar.

Areas around BKC, such as Kurla and Chembur, are also flourishing. “People want to stay close to their places of work, and that’s why real estate in places like Kurla, which are low-profile, is booming,” said Kapur.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

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