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Gung Ho on the Ghetto

By T.V. Mahalingam     July 17, 2007

The Maharashtra government's attempt to transform Dharavi from a mega-slum to a modern township seems to have caught the fancy of Indian and international real estate developers. A list made available to BT by Iqbal Singh Chahal, officer on special duty for the Rs 9,300-crore Dharavi Redevelopment Project, shows that nearly 37 players have picked up the expression of interest (EOI) forms to bid for the project as of June 21. The list has large Indian business groups, including both the Mukesh and Anil Ambani conglomerates, Videocon, Tata Housing, Hiranandani, Mahindra Gesco, dlf and international biggies like Hutchison Whampoa (Hong Kong), Emaar (Dubai), and Tishman Speyer (US).

However, a full house turnout like this has not prevented real estate developers from towing a skeptical line on the project. For one, real estate developers do not see valuations of a redeveloped Dharavi being sky high. "Even if the project goes through as planned, Dharavi will continue to be a low-income group area as the present residents are not being relocated to another place. That would have to be factored in while making a bid for the project," says the head of a real estate developer who is in the fray, on the condition of anonymity.

Also, developers are not too sure about the veracity of data provided by the government on the number of residents present in the slum. "The Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority (MHADA), which is overseeing the redevelopment work at Dharavi, has not allocated space for transit camps for the present residents. Dharavi is an important project that must take off but issues like these have to be addressed first," says Sunil Mantri, Chairman, Mantri Realty, who also believes that the biggest hurdle in the project would be convincing the residents about the project.

That would be a tough task to accomplish considering that hundreds of Dharavi residents protested outside the MHADA office last fortnight. Like Dharavi resident and President of the National Slum Dwellers Federation, Jockin Arputham, says: "We plan to escalate our protests and plan to have a larger demonstration by the end of the month."

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