Dharavi dreams: What lies beneath the makeover

Published on Oct 25, 2022 12:41 AM IST

The first government resolution (GR) for Dharavi’s redevelopment was issued in early 2004 by the Sushil Kumar Shinde-led government.

Once known as the largest slum of the world, Dharavi is home to many flourishing small industries – leather processing, pottery, garment manufacturing, bidi and traditional packaged snacks, to name a few. Its present population is around 10 lakh. (HT PHOTO)
Once known as the largest slum of the world, Dharavi is home to many flourishing small industries – leather processing, pottery, garment manufacturing, bidi and traditional packaged snacks, to name a few. Its present population is around 10 lakh. (HT PHOTO)
BySatish Nandgaonkar

Mumbai: Dharavi, a densely populated pocket of land mass measuring 210.43 hectares, in landlocked Mumbai is a veritable pot of gold, eyed by various political parties when in power as well as builders, for close to two decades. Early migration into this space started with the arrival of potters to Kumbharwada (a neighbourhood in Dharavi) from Saurashtra and Kutch, in Gujarat, towards the end of 1800s (recorded in the official handbook of the Dharavi Redevelopment Project). Its history dates back to the 1700s – the Bombay gazetteer referred to the region as “six great koliwadas”.

Once known as the largest slum of the world, Dharavi is home to many flourishing small industries – leather processing, pottery, garment manufacturing, bidi and traditional packaged snacks, to name a few. Its present population is around 10 lakh.

The first government resolution (GR) for Dharavi’s redevelopment was issued in early 2004 by the Sushil Kumar Shinde-led government. A global tender in 2007 attracted 101 participants, but the project failed to take off. Thereafter, start-and-halt plans came to mark subsequent governments’ intent for redeveloping this neighbourhood.

Now, the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government has granted top priority to Dharavi redevelopment project, and by September end 2022, the cabinet cleared the decision to begin a fresh tendering process, following which the tender was issued.

Community-speak

Industrious small business owners, such as 49-year-old Bharat Chitroda, are now a worried lot. Chitroda, a potter, carries out his business from Kumbharwada, a maze of narrow lanes, with a thick bundle of black electrical wires snaking through the labyrinth. On a pre-Diwali evening, in small open areas some pottery kilns are active, spewing dense black smoke. A tired Chitroda lies in repose on the floor in his two-storey house as his mother standing by the door watches a kiln worker add cloth strips into the furnace. “He’s tired and resting,” she said.

Chitroda is one of Kumbharwada’s traditional potters, one of the diverse, industrious communities settled in Dharavi. He’s sceptical of Dharavi’s redevelopment – a focus of the present political dispensation.

“My family has been living in Kumbharwada for more than 100 years. As you can see, my house is much larger than the 300 or 400 sq ft homes that the government is offering. More than our house, we are worried about our trade. Where will we do that?” asked Chitroda.

Chitroda’s extended family of 11 members live in a pucca house fitted with glazed tiles from outside, with Bharat occupying the first floor, and his younger brother Ramesh’s family living on the second floor. “It’s 18 x 65 feet. Now, how can we fit into a 405 sq ft redeveloped tenement? We don’t have a community kiln, but individual kilns to bake our clay products. It isn’t clear what arrangements they have planned for our community in the redevelopment plan,” said Chitroda, whose uncle Kamlesh Chitroda heads the community organisation representing the Kumbharwada potters.

Dharavi’s early industry

After the first influx of migrants from other states, by 1737, the Kala Killa came into being as part of the Bombay Castle fortification, and sentries were posted here to guard the northernmost end of the island city.

Around the same time along with the potters, Muslim master tanners from Tamil Nadu started the leather tanneries, the artisans and embroidery workers came from Uttar Pradesh, and the Tamil community set up their sweets and savories businesses. “People who came and settled in were from all parts of India – everyone had some kind of skill or vocation, so they did not seek employment. The majority of people in Dharavi are self-employed, and they give employment to others,” said author Rashmi Bansal, who in 2012, co-authored Poor Little Rich Slum which documents 20 entrepreneurial success stories of Dharavi residents.

Over the years, as the city expanded, Dharavi found itself at the centre of the city, and next to the new Central Business District (CBD) of Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) which increased the pressure on its land. As Mumbai’s slums began proliferating, Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance, And Redevelopment) Act, 1971, came into being. The 1976 Census brought the photo passes and the main arterial roads, including the 90 feet and 60 feet Sion-Mahim Link Road, were constructed.

According to the handbook, in early 1985, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sanctioned 100 crores for upgrading the housing infrastructure of Mumbai and 37 crores of the grant was reserved for Dharavi. It led to the Prime Minister’s Grant Project (PMGP) for housing and 27 buildings were built under the project.

In December 1995, the 1971 Act was amended to set up the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) for undertaking redevelopment. From 1995 to 2004, 86 SRA schemes were implemented based on the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). On February 4, 2004, when Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde was the chief minister before the 2004 assembly elections, the government issued the first GR to redevelop Dharavi. The Urban Development Department declared 178.30-hectare and 62.05-hectare area in Dharavi as Dharavi Notified Area.

The government then carried out the Prashant survey in 2004-05, and the Maharashtra Social Housing and Action League (MASHAL) survey from 2007 to 2009 to map and collect data about Dharavi. Dharavi was initially divided into nine sectors and then five sectors with 97 clusters and 190 sub-clusters for the purpose of survey, according to the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) handbook.

DRP fails to take off

The very first attempts to redevelop Dharavi were by US-returned architect-turned-developer Mukesh Mehta in the late 1990s. A chance meeting with architect Ranjit Naik, who worked on SRA schemes, piqued his interest.

Mehta said he had questioned the slum redevelopment buildings as being virtual vertical slums due to their poor construction quality and lack of amenities for the slum dwellers by the concerned developers. “Then the developers carved a square-shaped plot out of the available area, and since they had to give amenities, they scattered the amenity space in whatever area that remained on all sides of the construction,” said Mehta. Naik challenged him to redevelop Dharavi according to his ‘utopian’ concept. For the next 15 years, Mehta worked on the DRP with passion.

Mehta sought to reduce inequalities in all aspects of living and harness Dharavi’s intrinsic human resource potential. “Through Sanjay Kothari, the Chairman of the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, I interacted with some eminent members of the Council who offered to set up 300 state-of-the-art jewellery export manufacturing industries in Dharavi which would train and employ 75,000 people, including many of its residents. These units could generate nearly 4000 crores of annual export revenue,” he said.

He also motivated Lina Ashar, who operated Kangaroo Kids pre-schools, to provide free education similar to what the economically well-off students received, in return for school buildings and infrastructure at minimal cost. “At my behest, National Institute of Design (NID) was keen to set up a product design school in Dharavi. We set aside a one-acre plot which could develop skill-sets of Dharavi craftsmen,” he said. Dr Naresh Rao of the Association of Ambulatory Surgery was wished to set up day surgery polyclinics that would provide free sophisticated treatment to residents on two specified days of the week.

“All I was focusing on was to reduce inequalities. My idea was that a slum rehabilitation building needed to be taller than seven storeys to provide adequate and high-quality amenities to the slum dwellers in super dense areas like Dharavi,” said Mehta, who has a blueprint ready for making Maharashtra slum-free with his model which could generate huge surplus for the state exchequer. He had also proposed to clean and beautify the Mithi river and river fronts to create walks, provide water sports, construct a bridge to BKC etc.

Mehta’s ideas impressed the political class, but ran foul with a section of powerful bureaucrats. The tenders attracted major international developers, but the vested interests criticised him for conceptualising high-rise structures in a slum rehab project.

Over the years, SRA projects have gone vertical and the latest slum rehab project in Mahalaxmi goes as high as 42 floors. Mehta demonstrated that the slum rehabilitation project was not only a humanitarian upliftment programme, but even the state exchequer could earn a healthy revenue. “I strongly recommended the concept of premiums and incentives for amenities into the Dharavi policy. Subsequently, in 2009, this concept was introduced as a part of the Housing Policy,” claimed Mehta, who was eventually removed from the project in 2012. He filed an arbitration case and was awarded 87.72 crores in damages. The award is challenged and the matter is pending before the Bombay high court.

The first global tenders issued in 2007 received 101 responses from developers across the world but were later cancelled. In 2016, the tender was floated again but failed to get any response despite five extensions. Learning from past experiences of sector-wise development by developers, the government revised the strategy and went for the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) model in the 2018 tender.

Adani-group-led consortium and UAE-based Seclink Technologies-led consortium entered the race, the latter backed by funds from the UAE royal family’s fund for social upliftment projects emerged the winning bidder. The company’s proposal was to make Dharavi a smart, sustainable city. However, Seclink was never awarded the project. The government sought legal opinion, and it was left to the Uddhav Thackeray-led government to take further decision. Based on the Advocate General’s legal opinion, the government decided to scrap the tender, and re-tender the project. (See Dharavi timeline)

Redevelopment back on agenda

“Dharavi is the most complex urban renewal scheme. For a population of this size and complexity, we made certain changes based on the past tendering experience. So, we tweaked the model that was being followed,” MMRDA chief SVR Srinivas, who was also in-charge of the DRP, told HT, at the MMRDA headquarters in BKC.

In a paradigm shift, the government adopted the SPV model which was a combination of government and private sector participation. “The SPV will have government nominees as well as private ones. That gives slum dwellers a lot of comfort, because there is a government officer there and he will not be shortchanged. Also, the government becomes responsible. Otherwise, as you saw recently in Mumbai, the government had to cancel 500 developer-driven SRA schemes after 15 years, and people were impacted. It is important to have an interface, which we gave through the SPV,” said the MMRDA chief, who is executing some of the big-ticket infra projects in the city.

The first change brought into the SPV model in 2022 was the State Support Agreement concept. “The state support agreement was not there in the previous tender process. We have given the project the ‘Vital Public Purpose Project’ status. No one can make changes half way through the project. The rules of the game should be set and carried through till the end of the project. The State Support Agreement gives a level playing field (to the bidders) and arbitrary decision-making could be avoided,” he said.

The IAS officer said the second change the government incorporated was that all concerned parent departments involved in the DRP had to issue the requisite circulars within 15 days of the GR. Apart from the DRP team, the departments of housing, urban development, industries, finance and revenue also contribute in policy-making.

“Each department had to come out with the circulars so that no issues crop up later during the actual execution of the project. This was to make the project execution foolproof as this is a huge, high-risk project,” he said. He said other changes included changes in the utilisation of the TDR norms and the appointment of the Project Management Consultants (PMC) along with the selection of the Lead Partner. Eight companies for Lead Partner, and 11 to 12 companies for PMC attended the October 11 pre-bid meeting.

Srinivas said unlike the developer-driven model, the SPV model also had the government nominees on the SPV board. “The chairman of the board of directors of the SPV will be from the government. The CEO of DRP and two other government-appointed nominees will also be there. The government will invest 100-crore as equity, and will have 20 per cent share. As the project kickstarts, lots of issues will come up. No developer, however, mighty or experienced will not be able to do it on his own. Here, the government is going to benefit if there is a profit in the project. Ultimately, the government is accountable to the people,” Srinivas said.

The new bid process has also tweaked certain financial and eligibility criteria. The consolidated net worth of the Lead Partner of the consortium has been increased from 10,000 to 20,000-crore. The norm for total construction experience of the Lead Partner was reduced from 25 million sq ft to minimum 6 million sq ft in the last seven years. Similarly, the upfront investment before signing the development agreement has been reduced from 3,150-crore to 1,600-crore.

Asked about these changes, Srinivas said, “One of the biggest challenges in this project is the scale and size of the project. First the rehab portion has to be done which will require construction of 5,000 to 6,000 tenements – which is like 20 SRA schemes. The developer not only has to construct the tenements, but also provide all the infrastructure – the roads, internal bridges, water supply, storm water, sewerage, power supply. Upfront investment is very high. So, the investor has to have that kind of net worth. These changes have been made to increase competition,” he said.

Srinivas said the first round of transit accommodation will be done on the railway land. “The railway land was not part of the 2018 bid. In December 2018, the tender was issued, and in March 2019, we signed the MoU with the Railways for the railway land. This time the railway land is part of the bid and the first round of transit tenements will be built in-situ on railway land. We cannot have 10,000 people leaving Dharavi for Mahul or Thane. There are also livelihood issues. We do not want to disturb the social fabric of Dharavi,” he said. The two tranches of railway land are located adjoining the Central Railway line, and close to Mahim station.

Asked why the sectoral development approach was abandoned for an integrated approach, Srinivas said, “To ensure optimisation of space so that maximum number of people are accommodated. It gives a lot of flexibility to the developer in master planning. It will be up to the SPV, in which the government is also a party, to structure the residential, commercial and industrial sectors,” he said.

Speaking at an MMR infra summit organised by MP Rahul Shewale recently, Srinivas said as the largest slum cluster in the city, Dharavi accounted for 40 per cent of Mumbai’s slums. “If we are able to successfully redevelop Dharavi, it will be the first big step towards a slum-free Mumbai,” he said.

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