These dusty, dirty, often-stinking, narrow lanes, crowded with houses of tin or tarpaulin sheets, have suddenly become an international tourism hotspot and this time the state government is welcoming them with a grin. Because the visitors represent elite institutes like London School of Economics, Rockefeller Foundation, United Nations and Nagoya University, Japan, all trying to understand the method in the madness.
And they have pointed out precisely that lack of method, in areas of communication in an otherwise encouraging project. Barnabas Atiyaye, programme officer, United Nations Human Settlement Programme, who visited to study the project last year, told HT via e-mail that the Dharavi project taught the world “how communication problems between the authorities and residents can stall an otherwise, a very good initiative.”
Mukesh Mehta, the chief architect of the project claimed that he is working overtime to clear the misconceptions. “I am open to dialogues in any forum. Even if there is a public debate on the middle of the road. Why, economic redevelopment has been prominent in the agenda,” he told HT.
Atiyaye claimed that the success of the project highlighted “The importance of considering economic and income generating activities as contained in the urban upgrading plan”. Mehta agrees, “The residents will be taught how to improve the quality of their products and earn additional income.”
The UN has words of praise as well for the project. “Dharavi teaches how urban projects can be self financing and the importance of cross subsidy to ensure projects address the needs of the poor,” Atiyaye claimed.
Teams comprising urban experts, students, architects, economists, sociologists have been flocking to Asia’s biggest slum to note down every detail of what promises to be one of the largest rehabilitation and redevelopment plan.
Mehta claimed that more and more independent agencies were forging alliance with the much-touted redevelopment plan. “We have been contacted by the National Institute of Design and Central Leather Research Institute who wish to train the potters and the leathersmiths in Dharavi,” said Mehta, adding, “banks are providing loans to the leather-smiths and potters for forming cooperatives as well. Potters will be the biggest beneficiaries of the project.”
As the final bids await announcements, this 550-acre land mass, which has been historically locked for this space-starved city, awaits to don the look of an area which any city would be proud to have.
According to the final plan that HT has, the whole area will be intersected by elevated walkways, theme parks like leather and pottery complexes and special economic zones in the manner of special economic zones, apart from commercial and residential complexes.