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Dharavi depressed

Radheshyam Gupta’s words echo the frustration running through the sunshine-starved bylanes of Dharavi — India’s biggest slum, report Shashank Rao & Naresh Kamath.

mumbai Updated: Nov 01, 2009 01:21 IST

“I think we will have to live like this all our lives.”

Radheshyam Gupta’s words echo the frustration running through the sunshine-starved bylanes of Dharavi — India’s biggest slum.

A resident of Dharavi for 25 years, the 27-year-old bank clerk hoped that the ambitious, Rs 15,000-crore Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) would change the quality of life in the 213-hectare maze of shanties and cottage industries.

But his hopes are sinking.

A recent survey conducted by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), revealed that 67 per cent of the residents of one sector of the slum—Dharavi can accommodate 24 Oval Maidans, a recreational ground spread over 22 acres in south Mumbai — are illegal. These people moved to Dharavi after January 1, 2000, the cut off date for regularization of slums.

This 67 per cent, therefore, does not qualify for homes under the DRP. The authorities handling the Dharavi project say a survey of the four other sectors will throw up similar results. The project is now stuck.

Gautam Chatterjee, officer on special duty who heads the project, said, “I have submitted my report to the state government. They will look into it.” Chatterjee has pointed out that there would be a law and order problem in Dharavi if the redevelopment is done excluding majority of the dwellers.

Chief Secretary Johny Joseph said he would comment only after reviewing the issue.

This is the second blow to the project. The first was when seven out of 14 developers pulled out of the project saying it was unviable given the economic slowdown. The DRP had almost selected the bidders twice but the decision was postponed.

Its own undoing?

Dharavi, in a way, brought this upon itself. When the project—which involved dividing the slum into sectors and redeveloping it into commercial and residential structures--was announced in 2004, the demand and rates for space in the slum rose. A 10 feet x 10 feet shanty, which cost Rs 2-3 lakh a decade ago, could now be sold at Rs 15-20 lakh.

Many residents thought it was prudent to sell their shanties for houses in respectable housing colonies in far-flung suburbs like Mira Road. They sold their homes to migrants and moved out without realising what that meant for the redevelopment plans.

Today, there are 59,000 families—at least 3 lakh people—living in Dharavi with about 4,800 people crammed into one hectare, the highest population density in the world.

And they will continue to do so for now.

Controversies galore

A Government-appointed expert committee had criticized the scheme in July this year calling it ‘sophisticated land grab’. An expert committee member talking to Hindustan Times said redevelopment should be done in a small area first as a pilot project. “Every area in this place is unique and local conditions should play a vital role while undertaking the redevelopment project,” said the member, requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Dharavi is home to a number of small scale and cottage industries. There is pottery in Kumbharwada, papad making at Dharavi cross road, garment manufacturing in Shastri Nagar and leather tanneries at Kutti Wadi.

Owners of these units argued that the DRP did not take the nature of industries functioning here while allotting space to them under the project.

Mashal, a non-governmental organisation involved in the project said the slum should have been developed in clusters. “The DRP should restrict itself to the master plan and monitoring while the people should choose the developer,” said Dinesh Prabhu, surveyor, Mashal.

Developers who pulled out rue the delays in the programme. “There is no clarity and a lot of politics in the project. We felt the effort was risky,” said Mofatraj Munot, Chairman, Kalpataru Group.

Pranab Datta, vice chairman and managing director, Knight Frank India Private Limited said there was no transparency in the process. “The project involves investing a lot of resources and the current environment is not encouraging,” said Datta.