New makeover plan for Dharavi: will this one succeed?

Dharavi slum. wikimedia commons

What has the late Om Puri-starrer Dharavi, Deewar with magnificent roles by Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor, Rajinikanth’s socio-political action-drama Kaala, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay and Danny Boyle’s Oscar award-winning Slumdog Millionaire have in common?

All these have the backdrop of Dharavi, one of the largest slums in all of Asia.

An aerial view will show it to be a mosaic of match-box type dwellings in a highly-congested area. A view from the ground would show that some of the dwellings are three to four storeys high.

Early morning, if you are outside any suburban station of Mumbai and its suburbs, you would definitely come across an ‘idliwalla’, mostly on a bicycle -– the hot idlis and tasty chutney would be from a Dharavi dwelling.

There is also a fair chance that the leather wallet in your pocket may have been made in Dharavi. 

Spread across 2.1 sqkm and having a population of over seven lakh, Dharavi is expected to see a major makeover. However, it is not an easy task as in terms of population density, it’s among the highest in the world.  

It’s home to over 60,000 to 70,000 families — and in terms of demography, it would not be wrong to describe it as a mini-India. Spread over 200 hectares (500 acres), it boasts of a literacy rate of 69% — the highest among the slum localities in the country. 

Spread across the Sion-Matunga stations of the Central Railway and Bandra-Mahim on the Western Railway, the Dharavi locality is also a business hub — although the turnover of all its entrepreneurs is difficult to estimate as their businesses are in the informal sector. The Mithi river empties into the Arabian Sea through the Mahim creek.

Over the last few years, several initiatives were taken to give Dharavi a makeover. However, it has not met expectations. Now, the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena alliance government has come out with a new scheme.

Dharavi will be redeveloped as a whole and not in parts as conceived earlier. For this, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) will be set up — with 80% private stake and 20% government contribution — to execute the Rs 22,000-crore project. Global tenders will be issued for construction, according to Housing Minister Prakash Mehta. The families will get a minimum 350 sqft home if they are currently living in 300 sqft homes. Tenements above 350 sqft would get 405 sqft homes and owners of homes over 500 sqft currently would get places that are 35% extra in area.

The slum and non-slum areas of Dharavi are to be developed as per the provisions of the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971, and regulation 33(9)(A) and 33(10)(A) of the Development Control Regulations, 1991, for Greater Mumbai.

Unchanging face

Dharavi has several business units — right from textiles to pottery to fabrication to leather industry. Plastic recycling and garbage segregation, too, is done here. It has an estimated 5,000 business entities and 15,000 single-room factories. Goods produced here go to West Asia, South-East Asia, US and Europe.

There have been several projects undertaken previously — the Slum Improvement Project of 1972 and 1976, Slum Upgradation Project of 1985, Slum Rehabilitation Scheme of 1995 and the Dharavi Redevelopment Project of 2004. All of that brought in several changes. What they all failed to change, however, was the face of Dharavi — and now comes this new scheme, promising to do exactly that. But there are numerous problems. One of the major issues that comes in the way of the project is to decide the right claimants.

“Dharavi is unique. It has almost everything, right from a needle to a computer are manufactured here. The apparel tailored here can compete with the best brands of the world. In fact, several big brands get their clothes tailored here. Plastics, leather, garments, pottery, bakery, food, catering, confectionary…you will find everything here,” said Mumbai-based researcher, writer and story-teller, Ajit Joshi.

The slum also has 28 temples, 11 mosques, six churches, 50 banks and 60 government schools — and also has a mobile design museum where people showcase their products!

Dharavi also has a small fort, known as the Riwa Fort. Also known as Kala Qila or Black Fort, it is currently in a dilapidated condition. It was built by the first Governor of Bombay, Gerald Aungier (1669–1677). It was part of the larger Bombay Castle, and marked the northern portion of British-held Bombay in the 17th century. The castle was also used as a watchtower, guarding the territory against the Portuguese-held (and later Maratha-held) Salsette Island.

Back then, it was a large swamp and primarily inhabited by Koli fishermen who made a living from the waters. As the legend goes, the British built a dam on the Mithi river, due to which there was no water to feed the swamp and it dried up. The fishermen near the sea and a community of potters moved in here.

In fact, they could be called the first settlers of the region. As Mumbai turned into a hub for textiles, thousands of men from North India moved in as well and the slum as we know it started to take shape. These migrants started moving in in the 1960s, and they have been coming ever since — making Dharavi what it is today.

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New makeover plan for Dharavi: will this one succeed?

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