BMC has forgotten the man responsible for Churchgate station

Apr 13, 2015, 15:20 IST | Varun Singh

James Mackison, an engineer with the civic body in early 1900s, had lobbied for suburban railway to be extended from Grant Road to Churchgate. His portrait now languishes in BMC's headquarters at Fort

In the early decades of the last century, one man had suggested that an elevated electric railway line be built from Marine Lines to Woodhouse Road in Colaba, that would also connect Fort and Bori Bunder. He was the one who had suggested that the suburban railway should not be stopped at the Grant Road station, but should be connected to Churchgate, as the traffic was increasing.

The portrait will now be shifted to a museum being planned in the BMC’s heritage wing
The portrait will now be shifted to a museum being planned in the BMC’s heritage wing

He had opposed an underground rail line, citing construction and maintenance issues and the fact that water was found at a depth of few feet. He was also amongst those who had suggested that mill owners should accommodate mill workers near the mills, and the railways, since it could ferry its workers, should accommodate them outside the island city.

His only portrait, which has a gold leaf frame and dates back to 1927, is, however, languishing in one corner of the BMC’s building. We are talking about James W Mackison, one of the first civil engineers of the then Bombay Municipal Corporation, whose portrait is hanging on the third floor of the new wing of BMC headquarters in Fort, which was constructed in 1954.

Forgotten contributions
Mackison had come down to India from Scotland as per records available online. He had joined the BMC and served as executive engineer and special engineer from 1911 to 1929.

As per the report of the Bombay Development Committee of 1914, available online, Mackison had prepared a complete map of how the development of Mumbai should take place and was in favour of having an elevated railway line connecting the whole of South Mumbai.

He had even talked extensively about the reclamation of Backbay and how it would help the island city. He had then examined an issue which is still pertinent today whether there should be an elevated or underground railway line in South Mumbai, going from Marine Lines to Colaba via the maidan.

No one knows how the painting of Mackison reached the third floor of the new wing of the BMC building, especially since the portrait dates back to 1927 and the new wing was constructed only in 1954. The portrait is hanging in a small cabin of an officer from the Budget department and a senior officer from the department claimed that it has been there for nearly two decades.

‘Delighted to know it’s safe’
Sanjay Sawant, head of the Heritage Conservation Cell of the BMC said that they have seen the painting and are delighted to know that it is safe. “It’s hard to ascertain how the painting reached the third floor and landed in the Budget department, but it has been noticed, and we will soon shift it to its rightful place.”

The “rightful place” is the museum that conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah is planning on the second floor of the heritage wing of the BMC building. “We have found many portraits. I have seen this one too. It has a gold leaf frame and it will soon be shifted to the museum that we are planning,” she said.

Rais Shaikh, group leader of Samajwadi Party, who was one of the first politicians to spot the painting said, “After knowing what Mackison has done for this city, it is sad that the BMC and even the parties that claim to be of Mumbai and for Mumbai have ignored him.”

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