As the Dharavi revamp project gains momentum, locals fear the bustling commercial activity, which employs lakhs of people, may come to a sudden end.
The owners of these commercial units, which coexist with slum residents, complain their very existence will be endangered by skyscrapers that will replace the slums. Dharavi houses a large number of small-scale units that manufacture everything from garment to leather articles.
“I will be forced to close down my business because it will be impossible to operate in small spaces in the new structure,” said Mohammad Sikander Shaikh. Shaikh who manufactures leather articles in a ground-plus-two-storey structure. In the new setup, he will be entitled to get only the area equivalent to only his ground-floor structure.
Over the years, Dharavi has developed into a dynamic small-scale manufacturing industry. Currently, it leads in garment manufacturing as well as food items. Various other items such as pottery and leather articles as well as plastic recycling is undertaken. Many of the households undertake small-scale work, which acts as a support to this industry.
According to Suresh Gajakosh, who heads Sonaji L Gajakosh & Sons, which operates the oldest tannery in the area, the problem with the scheme is that it focuses more on residential issues than than creating a livelihood for people.
“Dharavi is a unique place in Mumbai where almost every household is engaged in some commercial activity or another. Just creating tall buildings will sound the death knell for their livelihood,” said Gajakosh. “We have been hearing that big commercial units might be shifted to far off places like Mankhurd and this certainly unnerving,” said Gajakosh.
The DRA, however, says the revamp will boost business. “Small-scale industries will remain in Dharavi itself and there are no plans to shift them,” said Nirmalkumar Deshmukh, CEO, DRA. “We recognise that there is an industry in Dharavi and these people will get more space in their big houses,” he said.