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THE BOMBAY IMPROVEMENT TRUST, BOMBAY MILLOWNERS AND THE DEBATE OVER HOUSING BOMBAY’S MILLWORKERS, 1896-1918

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Abstract:

In 1896, a devastating plague epidemic hit the city of Bombay, triggering panic among colonial officials, the commercial elite, and Bombay millowners. In response, 1898, the colonial state created the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT), an institution mandated to improve the city for commerce and provide sanitary accommodations for the poorer and working classes. Despite having been created to improve housing conditions for the city's poorest classes, the Improvement Trust inadvertently increased the housing crisis. The Improvement Trust’s ideological blinders led the Trust to prioritize state thrift, so that the Trust acted as slum clearance board. Bombay’s millowners were disinclined to solve the housing problem themselves, because mills competed with each other for labor. Consequently, millowners failed to coordinate on basic labor practices, making the possibility of collaboration on the “housing question” even more remote. The competing political-economic cultures of the two groups, as well as their contradictory interests, facilitated mutual blaming by the Improvement Trust and millowners, which undermined a collaborative solution to the housing problem.

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