Under the aegis of the Urban Aspirations in Global Cities (UAGC) project, undertaken jointly by Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research (PUKAR), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Max Planck Institute of Religious & Ethnic Diversity, Gottingen, Germany, PUKAR’s team of Barefoot Researchers received an opportunity to study public land utilization. In specific, they wanted to explore the issue of land grabbing with religious sanction.

Mumbai has been built over 200 years through the efforts of migrants from rural Maharashtra and other parts of the country. The proverbial salad bowl, Mumbai’s citizens have brought with them their traditions, cultures and faiths. Therefore, it is not surprising that almost every street has a religious structure like temples, mosques, churches etc, some extravagantly built and others crudely constructed. Either way, while some have legal sanction, others are makeshift and have little or no sanction from authorities. With an increase in population, vehicular traffic leading to increasingly congested roads and a greater demand for infrastructure, these structures, specifically the illegal ones, have come under greater scrutiny. At the same time, the religious structures provide succor to the vast majority of people who frequent them. So how far is it justifiable to override these structures in order to make space for infrastructure? The question is a difficult one to answer because neither situation is ideal.

In December 2012, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) stipulated that those religious structures constructed after 1964 would be deemed illegal and demolished. The MCGM had identified 742 religious structures that were considered illegal. And in line with the policy, 208 were regularized and 534 were identified for demolition. Predictably, the MCGM has and continues to face opposition on this front. 

Taking the MCGM list as a point of departure, this study seeks to identify and map the different religious structures that dot the Mumbai landscape. It is believed, that mapping, a visual documentation effort, will help understand the politics of development initiatives. A sort of pilot study, this initiative, it is hoped, will lead to larger questions and ideas for research on urban space, encroachment, land grabbing under religious pretenses, and spatial contestation between the private and the public domains. Our Barefoot Researchers kept a close eye on whether these structures have been regularized, speculated on why or why not and identified anomalies wherever they exist.