The Smart City of Mumbai had its own Bicycle Factory called the ‘National Bicycle Corporation of India Ltd.’ (NBCIL) in the prime area of Worli spread over 4 acres of land. The NBCIL was established in 1939 by Birla Group to manufacture Bicycle and Bicycle parts with installed capacity of 5,44,000 bicycles as stated on their website. The company suffered losses and the Government took charge in 1974. Later, in the year 1980, the company was nationalized and became wholly owned company of Government of India.
When I interacted with the locals, I was informed that during its prime days, NBCIL had a staff strength of about 10,000 workers with a steady output of bicycles being produced and sold nationally and exported to the international market. Over the years, there were several irregularities in the functioning of the factory which led to worker strikes and other conflicts causing losses and eventual shutdown.
The disappointment to me, was when I saw the factory building standing partially demolished and its land under legal dispute between its founders and the government. The ruined status of the factory also somewhat negates the efforts of the cycling community especially at a time when they are hard pushing its adoption to a wider audience.
Currently, there are thousands of cyclists on the streets of Mumbai either commuting, cycling for livelihood or for leisure purpose. I have seen a growth in number of high-end cycle brands appointing dealers or opening showrooms for business in India. Giant, Trek, BMC, Willer, Jamis, Scott, Brompton, Cervello, Java, Specialized, Pinarello, Bianchi, De Rosa, Colnago, Merida… and a whole lot of Indian brands, you name it and its available. The cycling culture is spreading fast and so the brands are also looking to cash on this opportunity. Further, with increase in ridership, its ultimately the city which will benefit in the long run. A full run cycle factory in Mumbai city would have positively impacted in the development of cycling, but unfortunately the situation is contrary.
The mill land is owned by the Estate Department of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and was given on lease to NBCIL for 999 years. However, the company became non-functional in 2001. As per the lease terms and conditions, the company is not authorized to conduct any demolition activity without the civic body’s permission. But as reported in the media, the company attempted to carry out the demolition drive and tried to sell the land and this move was not welcomed by the civic body. So, a legal case is pending in the court.
The guard at the factory gate firmly believes that cycling is history in India. He confidently said to me “Sir, you are wasting your time as people are not going to return into cycling anymore. We don’t have safe roads in our cities and there are better alternatives of getting around. Back in my village in Uttar Pradesh, I’ve seen people cycling for hundreds of kilometers a day, from one village to another. For everything, the dependency was on a cycle. People were fit to cycle long distances. Times have changed, now everyone wants a motorbike. In bigger cities, there is a change in lifestyle habits; with consumption of fast food I have noticed that the ability to cycle in natural conditions has reduced. Food is inorganic and adulterated. The urbanities consume a lot of processed food and artificial supplements to remain fit which doesn’t make them internally strong. Because of the cities fast life, people seek comfort travel and go for quick and convenience based transport. You must abandon your pursuit in reviving the cycling culture again.”
I had cycled around this place. Entry inside the cycle factory is prohibited for outsiders.
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai