Historical Background

This pre-eminence of Bombay in the regional scene is closely linked with its history. With the gaining of a foothold, and a dependable harbour site in Western India, the British East India Company soon developed a flourishing trade with the Deccan. As the Gateway to India, at the shortest distance from the West through the Suez route, its economic base in the pre-industrial days was dependent on a direct access to the cotton growing lands of the Desh. In the strife-torn Maratha lands of the Peshwa period, the maritime and insular location within the Maratta land and yet out of it was indeed a boon for establishing a firm suzerainty over the region. The growth and spread of modern textile industry, with the aid of indigenous capital, and, under the impact of Western technology and skill gave the necessary impetus for growth of industries and commerce; the laying of the rail-links in the middle of the last century connecting the city with other parts of the country paved the way to open up the agriculturally rich interior, and provided the arteries through which the resources could be funnelled. Long after the advantages of the initial location factors were worn out, industrial diversification achieved in a short spanof time, side by side with increasing specialization and sophistication of the textiles output, kept the industrial function of the city going. The achievement of political freedom brought added importance to Bombay with the diversion of air-borne and sea-borne trade and traffic, hitherto converging on Karachi to this city; Bombay naturally emerged as the leading sea and air terminal of India. Independence also brought in its wake aninflux of large refugeepopulations to the city and its outskirts. The new-born vigour of post-independence period ushered in an explosive growth of varied industries. This vast industrial expansion and growth of business function was accompanied by surging waves of immigrant population from far and near, a rapid growth of the city followed by an urban sprawl and that quickly submerged the rural fringes. The rapidly fusing amalgam of the Bombay metropolitan region has turned out to be one of the biggest urban complexes of the nation, comparable to many of the leading western conurbations; yet, it is uniquely Indian in its morphology and its people, as can be witnessed in its streets, buildings and its colourful people.

Bombay is built on a group of seven islands originally lush with palm groves and paddy fields, and occupied by communities of kali fishermen and Farmers. Its link with the mainland of Konkan was through another group of larger islands—-the Salsette group lying athwart the Ulhas estuary. Though many ancient ports such as Sopara, Thana, Kalyan and Chaul in the neighbourhood were there for centuries contact points with Arabs and Africans, the Portuguese were the first to recognize the worth of a sheltered harbour site in one of the islands. According to some the name Bombay is a corrupt form of Bombaim, or Boa vida, meaning “lucky harbour” in Portuguese. 

The Portuguese built a quinta and a few churches in the main island of Bombaim and used it as a trading post. With the transfer of the islands to the British king as dowry, and the subsequent leasing of the islands to the East India Company for apittance of 30 pounds a year, the growth of Bombay as a port city began. A British town was laid close to the site of the Portuguese manor house and south of the Hindu town of Girgaum and the Muslim town of Mandvi. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the islands were interconnected, and the intervening seas and creeks filled and reclaimed. Each phase of reclamation was followed by the laying of east-west running roads such as the Charni Road, the Giant Road and the Bellasis Road. Two north-south running roads, reaching the old Hindu settlements of Dadar-Parel and Mahim were also laid. With the building of the Mahim and Sion Causeways, communications with Salsette were improved by the middle of the last century. New docks were laid along the eastern waterfront overlooking the Thana creek, and the Harbour Bay was deepened with further increase in population and commercial activities, thetown gradually extended westwards along the Back Bay to Malabar and Cumbala hills and northwards to Byculla.After the Great Fire of 1803 in which old fort town was destroyed a new township was built. Malabar Hill became the Governor's resort and the present day areas of Dhobi Talao, and Chaupaty became part of the city. 

A new factor entered into Bombay's development when a modest beginning was made to lay Bombay-Thana rail link of 33 km in 1853. Within two decades Baroda, Jabalpur, Nagpur and Raichur were rail-linked with Bombay. The completion of north-south roads during the same period led to the extension of the city northwards, and the completion cable-link with Europe further strengthened commercial and other relations between Bombay and the rest of the world. By the turn of the century, cotton spinning industry was established in Parel-Naigaum, Dadar-Prabhadevi, and Mahalaxmi-Lovegrove areas, then outside the city limits. The ready market for the yarn in China, and the excellent access by rail to the raw-material producing hinterland in Gujarat, Khandesh and Berar saw the growth of this mill industry to a spectacular level. In 1900, there were 136 units. Bombay became the Manchester of the East, employing nearly a lakh of workers, largely drawn from the districts of Konkan and Satara.

In the first few decades of the current century, the cotton mill industry went through a crisis leading to a shift from spinning to weaving. It, however, faced competition from competing centres of textile industry in the country and abroad, and its eccentric location in relation to the national markets for textile goods. It made several other adjustments but they could not effectively stem the decline of the industry run on old lines with worn-out machinery. The thirties of this century, thus, saw the rise of oil-mills, structural machine building and small engineering units.The post-independence policy of promotion of indigenous industrial output gave rise to a wide range of light and medium engineering, chemical and drug industries, refineries and associated petrochemicals, including fertilizers.

The vast expansion in industrial activities further increased the commercial and port functions of the city. The entire eastern waterfront extending from Colaba to Trombay started, humming with port activities; many business houses and financial institutions came into existence, and warehousing and bulk handling facilities increased. A wholesale trade area emerged in an area north of the Fort, south of the old Hindu and Muslim towns and adjoining the docks, close to the VT rail terminal in the Market- area. Soon city engulfed the urban realm of the whole island and spread further beyond in Salsette, developing suburb and absorbing them all into a well-knit city of metropolitan dimensions.

Ed. R P Misra, Historical Background, in Million Cities of India, Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi. 1978. p. 74-76.