Twelve years ago, an architect named Mukesh Mehta saw an opportunity to put Mumbai on a development path that could make it the next Shanghai. In the heart of the city, at the cross section of two major thoroughfares and two train lines was a sprawling informal settlement of shanties and shacks. Mehta had a vision to transform this 500 acre landmass into a cosmopolitan, urban destination that could set a shining example for the growth patterns of the rest of Mumbai.
Fast forward to today, and although Dharavi has starred as the protagonist in many movies, books, websites, and blogs, the settlement is as it was when Mehta first considered it — a heaving, growing, dynamic, and very much alive community. Dharavi is a stubborn stalwart of a slum. She inserts herself into every conversation about Mumbai's future, and she is the cause of much debate when it comes to redevelopment, poverty, slum dwellers and infrastructure. Trust us, she is flattered by the attention. But she would rather you just leave her alone.
With work scheduled to be underway this month, that is unlikely to happen. One sector of Dharavi has been chosen for a makeover. This is not without controversy; the lead government representative for the project, Gautam Chatterjee, has expressed his concern with moving ahead. The 'Committee of Experts' (CoE) appointed by the government to advise Chatterjee is outright against the plan. "Mehta's aim is profit, not rehabilitation. This plan is divorced from what the community wants," said Mr DM Sukthanker, former Chief Secretary of Maharashtra and member of the CoE, in an interview with Beyond Profit.
Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto visited the slum in February and identified the need for Dharavi and its residents to be acknowledged by the government by being given property rights. "Formal property title for the poor or land for enterprises such as those in Dharavi should not be seen as a real estate creation but more as an emancipation movement. This gives them a sense of being participative; from being in a system outside the law to being well within the framework of law," De Soto remarked.
Yet there is money to be made — at least INR 15,000 crore, or US $3.3 billion — by the government and the developers by transforming Dharavi into a new avatar. As Asia's second largest slum, and probably the world's most famous, many are watching the redevelopment process to see how it shakes out.
Here's what you need to know:
- The first settlers in Dharavi came there over 300 years ago, and turned marshland into liveable land; today Dharavi is home to over 500,000 people of all religions, castes and economic strata, not just the 'poor'.
- Almost none of the people who live in Dharavi own the land, but a great many own their homes and businesses (some of which they rent out); many houses have electricity which they pay for, and some have running water.
- Nevertheless, infrastructure is poor: few residents have toilets in their homes; open sewer lines spread disease and are a health hazard in the monsoon.
- Home to thousands of industries, including leather, pottery, textiles, food production and now a major hub of recycling, there is over US $600 million of turnover; unfortunately some of these industries pollute the environment and are unsafe for workers.
- The current redevelopment plan will give slum dwellers who own their structure a new 300 sq ft flat in Dharavi for free; those who rent will have to go elsewhere. Business owners will receive 250 sq ft, and will have to pay for anything more than that.
- The redevelopment has been divided into five sectors, which developers will bid for in a competitive process. Developers need to build housing for slum residents, and they will also be able to build more lucrative residential buildings and commercial properties.
This article originally appeared in slightly amended form on Beyond Profit, reprinted with permission.