Kavasji Patel & Framji Kavasji Banaji – Mumbai’s forgotten Heros


There was a big drought in Mumbai in 1822, The water availability was very less. The water from the well’s and the pool’s had dried up to the bottom. Despite trying hard, the drinking water problem was not solved. There were no taps, pipeline, drinking water connection etc like now in the year 1822. The source of drinking water, regular water at that time was just a well, pool of water or a lake. People of Girgaonkar, Kamathipura areas of Mumbai people were suffering a lot without water.

In the past, in 1775 a businessman named “Kavasji Patel” built a public lake in a field of Kampa to stop periodic but acute shortage if water in Mumbai. This lake was called as “Sugar Lake” because of sweet water unlike Mumbai’s sea by local people humurously. The water in the Kavasji Patel lake caused a water gave enough water in to all on Duncan road, Mumbai. At that time, two lakes were also built to supply water on Duncan Road,  and water was supplied through the canal from Kavasji Patel lake. A mango was aso named after “Kavasji Patel Mango”to honour him.

Now after the drought in 18oo’s, a businessman Framji Kavasji Banaji came forward to resolve the issue of drinking water and bought the “Mugbhatwadi” in Girgaon from the British in 1831. It is also caled the Powai estate. Framji Kawasji Banaji was born in Mumbai, 3 April 1767 to a Parsi family. He took Powai estate on lease and dug three large wells there. Revolutionarily he installed a steam engine and four rahats(pulley system) to pull over the water from the well and the bulls too. The water from the well was released into the lake on Duncan Road with the help of the previously prepared canals. From this, the people of Girgaon and Duncan Road started getting clean drinking water.

For this work, Kavasji Banaji was spent Rs 25-30 thousand(which was a great amount in 1800’s) himself. Framji was spent two hundred rupees per month also to run a “VAFE engine” and other systems. The British government gave him the right to collect taxes on coconut ‏trees in Mugbhatwadi as a return for this public work.

He even planted one lakh mango trees in 1334 acres of Powai estate. Not only was he a concerned citizen about people but he was a productive person too. This Powai’s areas mango became popular among the British as “Bombay Mango”. In 1833-34, it was more expensive than Ratnagiri’s famous mango. On May 18, 1838, Framji sent a basket of this famous Bombay Mango to Queen Victoria of England. It is said that Framji is the first Indian to send mangoes to the queen of England!

Framji encouraged Mumbai’s industries and its arts in a practical and substantial form, for he was one of those believers in national upliftment that would see in the advance of national industry a means to the end.

His social contributions :
-Framji planted mulberry trees in Powai. He started a silk farm, got the best quality silk out of it. Many activities like fruit cultivation was also done in the lands.
-First to introduce gas light in Bombay.
-First to introduce engineering contrivances in the matter of carrying water from one place to another by means of pipes .
-First to send native fruit Mango that was grown in his estate of Powai as a present to the Queen of the United Kingdom on 18 May 1838.
-He funded building of the Tower of Silence at Chowpati hill (now Malabar Hill).
-He was instrumental in the success of the Elphinstone College, Bombay (now Mumbai) as member of education Board.
-He was also a huge contributor of the student’s Literary and Scientific Society (LSS) in India.
-He early associated himself with public companies of an industrial character and where other indian’s were afraid to step in, he rushed forward and cleared their way, undertaking risks and ventures.
-Framji was the first to help them in a very tangible form by investing what little he had these newly-risen companies, which accounts for the great sacrifice he made.
-He one of the active workers on the Board of the Bank of Bombay, and of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce ushered into existence in the year 1836.

This is a brief list of what great industrial enterprizes Framji in his days aided in a variety of ways.

In 1838, the neck of the Kavasji Patel lake was full of mud and almost dried. The mud was as removed  and it was cleared and dug deep by Framji Kavasji and additional works were done on the lake, thus refreshing the lake again. As a gratitude to him, Kavasji Patel lake was named as Framji Kavasji Tank. Powai lake dug by him was also named after him.

He died of minor illness on 12 February 1851 at the age of 85 Great people like Dadabhai Naoroji, Jagannath Shankar Shethan were present in their mourning meeting. He earned much, but gave away more to works of public utility, so that,at the time of his death at  age of 85, he was rather poor than what he started as and died humbly. During his lifetime he did much for the city and his country and its people for which a Framji Kavasji Institute (now Framji Kavasji Hall) was built after his death.This write-up is because no one knows the name of Kavasji Patel, Kawasji Framji today, people of Mumbai should know the who the guardians of Mumbai were.

by Chandan Vichare

Compilation reference literature –

1. Mumbai Description – Govind Narayan Madgaonkar (Saket Publication)
2. Mumbai City – N.R. Gate (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation Centenary Publication)
3. Journey of Historic Mumbai – Sambhaji Bhosale (Snehal Publication)
4.When Mumbai was of British india –  Madhav Shirwalkar (Ganthali)

  • 33