Uprooted and dumped by BMC, 'missing' milestone found in South Mumbai

Uprooted and dumped by the BMC in Lower Parel, British era milestone discovered in Colaba railway colony

Vinayak Talwar stands beside the V milestone located inside Colaba's Badhwar Park Colony
Vinayak Talwar stands beside the V milestone located inside Colaba's Badhwar Park Colony

After the V milestone discovered on Parel's Dr SS Road during a routine demolition of illegal structures by the BMC, was restored in August, another historic milestone, believed to be missing, has been located at Colaba's Badhwar Park Railway Colony.

Originally, the milestone inscribed with the words 'V Miles from St Thomas's Church' stood in Lower Parel. Western railway officials realising its importance to the city, gave the dislodged piece of history a home 12 km away. "The discovery was accidental," says Vinayak Talwar, a volunteer with local history group Khaki tours.

Talwar was visiting the Colaba railway officials quarters in search of an ancient baobab tree, when he stumbled on it. "The Colaba railway station, part of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway (BB&CIR), now Western Railway, used to sit where Badhwar Park now stands. In 1930, it was built over. The baobab tree had been there since way before. I was happy to see it in much better shape than its counterparts," says Talwar.

Sources say that the surveyors of the Mumbai Metropolitan Heritage list dated 2010 had documented this newly discovered milestone as "lying uprooted in the compound of a building at the northern end of the Lower Parel Bridge".

The milestones, 16 in all, are believed to have been commissioned in the 1800s by the British.

The back story
An article written by Lester Gavin Martis that appeared in 2013 in the Bombay Explorer, a magazine published by the Bombay Local History Society and The Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture, listed it as missing. "A colleague and I had searched for the milestone in every alley, colony and dustbin of Lower Parel.

When we showed an archival image of the milestone to a local resident, he immediately recognised it. According to him, the milestone was in the middle of the road and was causing accidents. So, BMC workers uprooted it and left it in the compound of an old building," says Martis, who was then a student at St Xavier's College, researching the subject for a project. Railway officials say they found it lying near the Lower Parel bridge around 2010 and later shifted to Badhwar Park.

What next?
Padmashree Dr Sadashiv Gorak-hshakar, retired director of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vaastu Sangrahalaya, says a plan should be instituted to restore all 13 milestones that are currently known to exist in Mumbai. "It may not be possible to reinstate them at their original location, so why not place them all together at say, the Bhau Daji Lad Museum or some such venue. A small map tracing their locations can be placed beside them," he suggests.

Conservation architect Vikas Dilawari says, "The milestones stand for their respective location. It's best if they are retained in their original setting. That would be contextual."

Conservation architect Tapan Mittal-Deshpande who, with the BMC, successfully restored the V milestone in Parel, says these are significant historic markers of the city and require care and determination to survive the onslaught of infrastructure development.

The Bombay milestones
Martis' article says: "The origin of milestones can be traced back to British colonial rule under the East India Company in the year 1816, in a period during which the fortified town of Bombay existed. Prior to 1817, there were no milestones. However, due to the expansion of the town in the area then known as Esplanade and the island of Salsette and the network of roads connecting the main fort to the other minor forts in areas such as Sion, Worli, Bandra, there was a need to identify the distance travelled between them. Thus, about 16 milestones were commissioned. One has to remember that prior to 1890, Bombay was not a well-planned city. Instead, it consisted of satellite townships around the Bombay fort."

The milestones belong to two categories based on the year they were commissioned and their distance from important structures built at the time. Horniman Circle's St Thomas Church built in 1817 had the Zero Mile beside it. Therefore, the first category of milestones belongs to 1817 and bear the inscription 'St Thomas's Church'. The second category belongs to 1837 when St. Thomas Church was consecr-ated as St Thomas Cathe-dral. Hence, this set of milest-ones is inscr-ibed with the words 'St Thom-as Cathedral'.

16 Total no. of milestones commissioned in the 1800s
3 No. of 'missing' milestones
7ft Height of milestone

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