A foggy castle in the toxic air
By T.V. Mahalingam August 31, 2007
Sixty-year-old Jockin Arputham runs his fingers along a large map of Dharavi. He points out two lines that run right at the edges of the map and demarcate the heart-shaped land mass of Dharavi from the rest of Mumbai city. "See those two lines…those are the Central and the Western lines of the Mumbai suburban railway network," says Arputham. "If even a fifth of Dharavi's slum dwellers decide to block the central line for a couple of hours, the city would come to a standstill." That's a proposition nobody living in Mumbai can dismiss easily.
Last fortnight, the Maharashtra government advertised in leading international newspapers (covering 28 countries), inviting bids from international developers to redevelop 144 hectares of Dharavi. In all, Dharavi is spread across 223 hectares. The remaining 79 hectares includes open areas and 85 buildings that have been redeveloped by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) over the past 10 years. At a cost of Rs 9,300 crore, the project hopes to change the face of Dharavi, quite literally. By 2014, the government hopes to transform Dharavi into a 'garden township' that will be choc-a-bloc with malls, multiplexes, and institutes of education like colleges and ITIs.
A list of builders who have bought Expression of Interest forms from the Maharashtra government *
That sounds perfect, at least on a powerpoint presentation. But translating that vision into reality is going to be much tougher. Despite being perceived by most of middle class Mumbai as an eyesore, Dharavi is home to almost 6 lakh people. That's more than twice the population of countries like Bermuda, Maldives, Antigua and Monaco put together. Two, Dharavi is a city within a city, one with its own self-sufficient economy. Even though, no official figures are available, it is estimated that Dharavi's annual turnover, from its various industries, is in the region of $700 million-$1 billion (Rs 2,870-4,100 crore). Moreover, 45 per cent of Dharavi's population is said to be self-employed. Any relocation of these residents and their businesses, even though temporarily, would be an experiment that has never been attempted before. Not in India. Not anywhere else in the world.
The government, however, says it is confident of executing the project. For the 57,000 families that are living on largely government-owned land, the proposal is to offer a 225 sq. ft pucca settlement. For the industries based in Dharavi, the first 225 sq. ft would be offered free of cost. "For any person who has any industry or commercial establishment in Dharavi, the first 225 sq. ft will be free. Any area above that would have to be purchased even though at significantly lower costs," says I.S. Chahal, officer on special duty for the Dharavi Redevelopment Project.
Activists like Arputham question the government's approach to the issue. "How can the government make people live in 225 sq. ft pigeon holes while they make malls for rich people to shop? Moreover, the government is talking about 57,000 families while there are close to 90,000 families in Dharavi. What happens to them?" says Arputham. The government is currently promising free housing to all people in Dharavi whose names appear in the electoral rolls of 1995. Activists claim that the government has got its numbers wrong and should at least consider the electoral rolls of 2000 as a starting point. Chahal says that the government is seriously considering using the electoral list of 2000 as a reference point, even though that would mean an additional 17,000 families being rehabilitated.
"All these numbers that the government is offering are wrong. The last official survey of Dharavi was done in the late 70s. A good place to start would be to undertake a fresh survey of Dharavi's population. If the government has reliable data, why doesn't it publish it?" says Arputham. Others like Debi Goenka of the Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG) also feel that government data is dubious. "If you look at the different sets of data that various departments of the government have…it's appalling," says Goenka. "I think malls will replace slums. The government is driven by the price tag of the project."
Total area: 557 acres
*Sourced from NGOs, data from 1990. Data on Dharavi is tough to come by as the last full scale census was conducted nearly two decades ago.
THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS
Expression of interest document: Available from June 1 to June 30, 2007
...Which will include housing for slum dwellers, space for non-polluting industries and area for free sale by developers.
ALWAYS A SLUM CITY
In the mid-17th century, Gerald Aungier, the second Governor of Bombay, made an attempt to attract traders and artisans from Gujarat. As a result, the population of Bombay is said to have grown by approximately six times between 1661 and 1675. It is said that some of the lesser prosperous people lived in 'native towns', just outside the Bombay Fort walls. Sources on the internet reveal that a count made in 1794 revealed that 1,000 houses inside the fort walls and 6,500 houses just outside the fort.
The much-reviled Dharavi itself was not a slum. In fact, as late as 1909, Dharavi was one of the six Koliwadas (fishing communities) of Bombay. But when the Dharavi creek dried up (as the various islands that make up Bombay were joined), the fisher folk lost their livelihood. However, potters (from Gujarat and Maharashtra) and tanners from Tamil Nadu migrated to the now-dry marshlands to set up their industries. With the explosion of cotton mills in the mid-20th century, Dharavi and the rest of Mumbai slums (like Khar and Byculla) continued to attract labourers from other parts of India. In some ways, Mumbai's slums are the price that city pays for its progress.
The Price Tag
That precisely seems to be the big driver of the project-the billion-dollar price tag. Even though most real estate industry watchers refuse to put a number to what Dharavi could be worth once it's developed, it is whispered that the price tag could be as high as $10 billion (Rs 41,000 crore). Despite that, real estate developers are cautious about the project. Says Mofatraj Munot, Chairman, Kalpataru Constructions: "This won't be an easy project to execute.
Indiabulls Real Estate is among the developers that has picked an EOI. Like Munot, Vipul Bansal, Joint Managing Director, Indiabulls Real Estate, feels that the scale of people involved might be the biggest hurdle to the project's success.
Bansal is cautious when it comes to valuing the property. "You must remember the fact that the people who are living in Dharavi are not moving out elsewhere. The polluting industries that are present there may also not disappear overnight.
In that sense, Dharavi will continue to be a middle- or low-income group area," says Bansal who feels the government is very serious about implementing the project.
Real estate industry watchers believe that the project, if and when it happens, will be good for the city. "If Mumbai wants to be an international financial city, more real estate like this has to come in," says Anshuman Magazine, MD, South Asia for CB Richard Ellis, a real estate consultancy.
In Arputham's one-room office in Dharavi, a lot seems to be happening. People from the slum drop in to enquire about the latest on the project, even as a former MLA from the Shiv Sena walks in with half a dozen cronies and promises to "make Dharavi a Singur." It's a prospect most Mumbaikars will not relish.