Project started by MVA govt; heritage consultant to help restore fort
Civic officials raze illegal structures at Mahim fort, on Monday. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
The centuries-old Mahim fort, which was completely encroached upon by hundreds of huts for decades, is finally free of illegal structures. The BMC launched the project to restore the fort to its former glory in November 2021 and the demolition of settlements at the site began in October 2022. Now, every hut has been razed and debris is being removed. The civic body will appoint a heritage consultant to come up with a detailed project report for the restoration of the ancient structure. The Mahim fort, along with its counterparts at Worli and Bandra, is historically significant. It is said to have been built in 1110 though it has been dilapidated for years.
The centuries-old structure housed 267 huts and approximately 3,000 residents
The fort used to be under the protection of the customs department but in 1972, when it was declared a state-protected monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1960, the department removed the existing security at the fort. “The fort was then completely encroached upon. The huts that sprung up were made of brick and wood, among other materials, and the settlers had access to electricity, drinking water, sewage disposal, etc. The condition of the fort was deteriorating. So, it was necessary to restore it and remove all these structures,” said a civic official. He added the sea-facing part of the fort was in a very hazardous condition.
“It posed a risk to the lives of inhabitants as a partial or complete collapse of the fort would have resulted in a large number of casualties,” he said. The fort housed 267 huts and approximately 3,000 residents. Akhtar Ali Shaikh, who once resided at the fort, said, “The special project was launched in 2021 under Aaditya Thackeray, the then-environment and tourism minister. The BMC asked us to submit papers and allotted us homes in Malad and Kurla. Almost over 250 families have already shifted to their homes and but there are few who didn’t get homes at their preferred locations.” He said that the authorities are trying to resolve the housing issue of the remaining people at the earliest.
Under the 'special project', the huts were surveyed and notices were given to their dwellers who were asked to provide certain documents. On the basis of the documents, the residents of 263 of 267 huts were deemed eligible for flats provided by the Slum Redevelopment Authority and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority in Kurla and Malwani. The apartments were allotted on a lottery basis. “But even after giving possession of the flats, a few locals were not vacating their huts despite several warnings. So the BMC finally took action on March 17 and completed the demolition process with the help of the police,” said a BMC official.
To make the fort a tourist destination, the process of appointing heritage consultant Vikas Dilawari is in progress. “As the fort had been fully encroached upon, it wasn’t possible to access every part of it. Now that the demolition has been completed and debris is being removed, we will appoint a heritage consultant. We are expecting a detailed project report within three months, after which tenders will be floated for restoration work,” said a BMC official.