Saturday, 05 January 2019 11:16

A Concise History of Textile Mills in Mumbai

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A Concise History of Textile Mills in Mumbai

1700 – Cotton trading from Mumbai to China
1853 – Rail link to Thana
1854 – Mumbai gets its first mill called ‘Bombay Spinning Mill’ well-known for producing Cotton textiles to be exported to Britain.
1870 – There were about 13 mills
1875 – Overall count of mills in Mumbai was about 70
1915 – Overall count of mills in Mumbai goes up to 138
1982 – About 2.5 laks mill staff go on walkout against ‘Bombay Mill Owner Association’ demanding wage increase.
1991 – State government announced Development Control Rule 58 which stated, Mill lands could be sold to others with some terms and conditions applied.
2005 – National Textiles Corporation (NTC) who owned 25 mills in the city started selling few mills to private businesses.
2006 – Supreme court said that the sale of mills was legal and changes to the rules for developing mills was valid.
2010 – NTC made decision to start 3 of the old Mills

Cotton trade from Bombay to China started in the 17th century. At first the trade between these two countries was in opium and the proceeds from this illicit trade were used to launch the cotton trade. Cotton trade actually took off with the establishment of a rail link to Thana in 1853 and then to Deccan in 1863. The rail link allowed raw cotton to be transported from its chief growing areas (Nagpur) to Mumbai. Warehouses had to be established to stockpile the sudden arrival of the large quantities of raw cotton. Most of these warehouses were established in Sewri – between the docks and the railway line.

All these elements gave Bombay an inherent advantage in the world cotton trade. Initially Bombay was only a trading post, but in 1854 with the establishment of the first cotton mill -“Bombay Spinning And Weaving company” at Tardeo in central Bombay – Bombay had stared the transition from trading to manufacturing. Encouraged by the success of the first cotton mill, the local businessmen quickly moved from trading to manufacturing. By the turn of the century cotton mills very an important part of the Bombay skyline, with well over a 100 cotton mills.

Most of Bombays mills ended up positioned in the Girangaon area- the literally translation from the local Marathi means “mill village” – now part of Cenrtal Bombay which at its peak had about 130 textile mills, with the best part being cotton mills. The mills workforce lived in the same locale, their families, however, stayed back in their villages. To begin with, employers accommodated these workers in specially built chawls in the vicinity of the mills. Occasionally, several such chawls would border a common enclosed space. As the number of mills increased rapidly, there was huge strain on the availability of property and hence each room was occupied by a full family. Eventually, families of workers began to migrate to Bombay, and each room in a chawl would have to accommodate the whole family.

The textile industry in Bombay flourished till the early 1980s after which most of the mills were being shut down as the owners deemed them loss-making and declared they were incapable of paying their workers dues.The mills of Girangaon were majorly responsible for the prosperity and growth of Mumbai during the later nineteenth century and for the transformation of Mumbai into a major industrial metropolis.

Mumbai still has 58 mills, 32 of which belong to private owners, while the rest have been taken over by the State several years ago when they turned “sick”. They are now being redeveloped with a vengeance – torn down to make way for shopping malls and high-rise apartment and office complexes. Mumbai has some of the most expensive real estate, mainly due to speculative investment.

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