The Global Urbanist

News and analysis of cities around the world

There are better models for Ahmedabad's slum redevelopment than Dharavi

In a city with a rich social enterprise tradition, it is surprising that Ahmedabad should copy so unthinkingly the crude, top-down, Dharavi redevelopment model of its neighbour Mumbai. Ahmedabad would do well to look amongst its own social entrepreneurs to find models for housing the poor and integrating incrementally into their new roles as homeowners without endangering their livelihoods.

Carlin Carr

Carlin Carr

Cities: Ahmedabad, Mumbai

Topics: Housing, Private sector governance, Property and real estate, Informal settlements

Ahmedabad, the economic capital of Gujarat state in Western India and home to nearly six million people, is known for its entrepreneurial spirit and inventive nature. It was from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad that Mohandas Gandhi led the people of India on a non-violent freedom struggle to victoriously overcome British rule. In 1972, the pioneering Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) formed in the city, and today is one of the leading organisations for underserved women in India, and perhaps the world.

The city is also home to the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship, within the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, and which is 'passionately committed to helping disruptive innovations and aspiring entrepeneurs succeed commercially.' It is not surprising then that this city is hosting the international traveling exhibit Vision of 10 in October 2011, which showcases a vision for ten sustainable cities in 2030. Ahmedabad is the only Indian city featured in the exhibit, mainly for its progressive transit system Janmarg.

What is surprising though, is that in a city of such out-of-the-box thinking and entrepreneurship, the Gujarat state government has decided to adopt Mumbai's controversial Dharavi slum redevelopment model as it embarks on an ambitious plan to upgrade the living quarters of 440,000 slum dwellers in the city.

Yet Ahmedabad need look no further than amongst its own community of entrepreneurs and innovators for better models. The city's dynamism is reflected in the numerous affordable housing initiatives that have cropped up recently.

The Ahmedabad project, called 'the Regulation for the Rehabilitation and Redevelopment of the Slums 2010' and run by the state's Urban Development Department, will focus initially on 1,200 families who reside in the 'crime-prone' slum of Amraiwadi. Under the public-private partnership (PPP) model, an Ahmedabad-based private contractor will develop 1,136 flats of 33 square metres each, in three-storey blocks, for allocation to slum dwellers currently living on government land. The one-bedroom apartments will have drainage and drinking water systems, and will also have a landscaped garden and school if all approvals go as planned.

The Dharavi redevelopment model

However, this ideal-sounding model has created a longstanding storm of controversy in Dharavi where it originated. The Dharavi Redevelopment Project, first presented in 2004, has been highly criticised for its top-down approach in bulldozing what its proponents considered a 'worthless eyesore'.

Their goal was to rebuild the area in the likeness of Shanghai. The PPP 'artificially' sectioned off the small but densely populated neighbourhood into five areas that were each bid upon by different speculative developers. But in pursuit of making the area into an 'eonomic hub', critics say the government and its parners have neglected the existing thriving economy in Dharavi, whose annual output The Economist valued at 500 million US dollars in 2005. As Katia Savchuk and Sheela Patel of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) describe in the Hindustan Times, 'Dharavi is a highly developed, socially diverse, and economically productive area that is the outcome of generations of investment and self-development with little assistance from authorities or formal institutions.'

Despite knowing this, Ahmedabad has gone forward with a similar PPP model for its slum redevelopment initiative. Under Ahmedabad's Slum Rehabilitation Policy, the builder can utilise the space left after constructing houses for the slum-dwellers for commercial or other purposes. Also, the floor space index (FSI) — the ratio of the total floor area of a building to the area of its site — will be raised for builders who develop slums under the policy. As DNA report, 'realtors will also have the liberty to use the higher FSI for that project or for their project elsewhere in the city that is planned on an area of the same size as the slum they are developing.'

Alternative models in Ahmedabad

Yet Ahmedabad need look no further than amongst its own community of entrepreneurs and innovators for better models. The city's dynamism is reflected in the numerous affordable housing initiatives that have cropped up recently.

'Housing is a game changer,' says B. R. Balachandran, an urban planner and Executive Director of DBS Affordable Home Strategy Ltd, who champions a low-cost housing model that offer a 'holistic' approach to integrating its clients into the formal housing system. DBS looks beyond concrete buildings to a package of products and services that facilitate their customer base's transition to formal ownership of their property.

As the project progresses, the government will need to keep as its focus the betterment of the people living in the slums, rather than a 'beautification' of the city...

DBS' target pouplation makes between 10,000 and 30,000 Indian Rupees (200 to 600 US dollars) per month to pay for the units that start at INR 4 lakhs (8,000 US dollars) for 20 square metres and go up to INR 9 lakhs (18,000 US dollars). 'The market needs to develop for this segment,' says Balachandran. The company offers social services that support housing, including facilitating access to home loans, financial literacy, livelihood support, education and health services. Most important however is the 'active handholding' as families who have mostly lived in slums and informal settings move into housing ownership. This is a critical component in making housing a 'transformational intervention', says Balachandran.

This transformational intervention is what the Dharavi model is lacking and why its potential in Ahmedabad is questionable. The top-down approach and the leap from slum to high-rise misses the need for incremental steps towards integrating the urban poor into the formal housing market. The high-rise as a structure also fails to take into account the nature of how the poor live, work and socialise. In Dharavi, this has been a leading criticism of the redevelopment project: that the poor need open spaces — not small, confined flats on upper-deck floors — so that livelihoods, which often require street space for selling or rooftop space for drying, continue to thrive.

The house is an investment in their future, and says Balachandran, 'there needs to be incremental investments in this that the community needs to be a part of.' Simply 'replacing a bad house with a better house' lacks the holistic approach and involvement that DBS believes is essential to moving people up the value chain and into the formal housing market. For this to happen, government investment in housing has to simultaneously involve investment in moving the poor up the socio-economic ladder by including health, education and 'equipping them to deal with life.'

Extending the model

DBS has partnered with Saath, an Ahmedabad-based NGO committed to empowering and enabling the upward mobility of low-income urban households. Saath and DBS have launched a spin-off social enterprise called Griha Pravesh, a 'first-of-its-kind' housing facilitation centre that will act as a facilitator for clients to make more informed decisions about their home purchases, for financing, and for the integration of community development initiatives.

Since some slum dwellers may be reluctant to move to a new area where employment opportunities and health and education services are less available than their current situation, GrihaPravesh will ensure access to programs such as those created through Saath. Examples of these programs are Saath's Urmila program, which trains women to become 'home maagers' for urban households, as well as Saath's Umeed, which provides vocational training for youth from vulnerable households in areas that include business process outsourcing, bedside patient assistance, customer relations and information technology.

Ahmedabad's potential for success

Ahmedabad is just setting out on the long and complicated road of slum redevelopment. As the project progresses, the government will need to keep as its focus the betterment of the people living in the slums, rather than a 'beautification' of the city, which will ultimately lead to an incongruence in goals for the players involved. A misaligned approach could lead to a loss of livelihood, social structures and way of life for the nearly half-million poor in the city.

DBS' affordable housing model acknowledges an important point in housing upgrading for the poor: the process that is needed to successfuly integrate the disenfrachised into the formal housing market. The Ahmedabad government has at its fingertips some cutting-edge resources, such as the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship, Griha Pravesh, and other affordable housing models to work with. The time is now for Ahmedabad to truly make its city into a 'Vision of 10' environment where all of its residents benefit from the creative, lively spirit of ingenuity that is so effusive there.

Carlin Carr is a manager in the Knowledge & Insights division of Intellecap, a social enterprise consulting firm in Mumbai. At Intellecap, she is editor of Searchlight South Asia (, a monthly newsletter that tracks trends in urban poverty in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, in which this article first appeared. Reprinted with permission.