Mumbai is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. In the heart of the city is Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, spread over an area of just 2.1 sq km. Dharavi literally means floating sands, and for years the area, located in the central part of the city, has struggled to shake off its stodgy image, plagued by several problems. The world knows it as the setting of the 2008 Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. Amid the busy train tracks, the heavily polluted Mithi River separates the slum from the modern skyscrapers of Mumbai. The neighborhood is a maze of small streets, each filled with dozens of people, many of whom live in tin shacks.
Families or groups of migrant workers often crowd into one room. Hardly anyone has a private bathroom. Even during the adoption of social distancing norms as part of Covid-19, it was certain that the region would have no such choice to follow them. However, it is a hub for several small, unorganized industries that manufacture medicines, leather, shoes, clothing, among other things.
For nearly two decades, successive governments in Maharashtra have talked about renovating Dharavi, but it has remained elusive. The push for renewal put a proposal form in 2018. However, it did not make progress due to multiple hurdles. According to the Uddhav Thackery-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government’s statement in the state assembly in March 2022, though the regime tried to get the railway land crucial for the reconstruction project, the attempt did not trigger a proactive reaction from the Centre. This was despite the fact that the state government paid around Rs 800 crore for the land transfer, it noted. In October 2022, just four months after the new Eknath Shinde regime dramatically seized power in the state, the railways handed over land for the Dharavi redevelopment project.
Bidding for the renovation project
Bidding for the renovation project involving players from all over the world happened four times due to multiple reasons. Railway land issue, basic bid price, eligibility issue, cost of construction materials are the main issues due to which the first three tenders were cancelled. The process was also changed to attract more bidders. In the new bid, conglomerate Adani Group’s Adani Properties bid the highest for the 259-hectare redevelopment project. Adani Properties has offered to invest the highest amount of Rs 5,069 crore for the initial investment in the Rs 20,000 crore project. It beat two other competitors – DLF and Shree Naman Developers. Notably, only Adani Properties and DLF’s financial bids were opened as the third bidder, Shree Naman Developers, failed to make it to the technical bidding process. DLF, quoted Rs 2,025 crore.
The overall schedule for the rehabilitation project is seven years and provides housing that could accommodate about 0,000,000 slum dwellers. Meanwhile, the revamp in the near term will give the Adani Group an opportunity to milk high revenue. Because along with bidding for remediation, the government also offers a component sale. The conglomerate could sell thousands of square feet of residential and commercial space in central Mumbai. There will be wide roads, residential and commercial areas, schools, hospitals, gardens, playgrounds and other amenities. The entire project, including that of the commercial areas, is expected to be completed within 17 years. The government has also given attractive offers to entities that are interested in working in the commercial areas.
How residents feel about the project
The eligibility criteria for the free housing scheme for slum dwellers is that they are residents before January 2001. They will be eligible for a house of 405 sq.ft. While people who lived in Dharavi between 2000 and 2011 can have the opportunity to buy and pay off. Concerns about who will remain above the allowable remain relevant. Most of the locals expressed fear that the redevelopment will kill the small businesses Dharavi is known for, and that they are happy with the way things are now. They said they are not sure what they will be offered after the redevelopment.
Paul Raffel, who runs the Dharavi Nagrik Seva Sangh, said: “We are not happy as the land that houses Asia’s largest slum is being handed over to the Adani Group. There are thousands of huts in Dharavi and four to five families live in each hut. But after redevelopment, they will get only one flat, which may not be enough for them.” More than 2,000 idli sellers live in Dharavi and travel around Mumbai to sell the snack for a living, he said. “But after the redevelopment such small enterprises may prevail. Those involved in the production of farsan (salty snacks), leather goods, embroidered garments, imitation jewelry, among others, will be finished. The value of houses may increase, but there is a strong Possible most of them to sell the property and leave the place,” he said.
Mahesh Ankush Kawle, a resident of Shastri Nagar in Dharavi, said that politicians and builders have started visiting the place to play with the sentiments of the locals as the elections are nearing.
“People living here speak about 18 languages and engage in various businesses. These people (politicians and builders) are just playing with the sentiments of the locals. Dharavi is spread over 600 acres of land. It is a prime location in Mumbai with four to five railway stations located nearby,” he said.
The reconstruction project is being implemented not for the welfare of the local people but for the personal benefit of certain individuals, he claimed.
President of Dharavi Bachao Andolan, Ramakant Gupta, said, “The redevelopment project should be completed on time. The Dharavi Rehabilitation Project (DRP) was approved in 2004 but nothing has happened so far. In 1995 there were 57,000 shacks in the slum, but now the number has doubled and we estimate it to be around 1,20,000.”
“About 50 percent Dharavi residents run small businesses from their houses and the population is around 12 lakh. We welcome the government’s decision but it should be implemented in time,” he said.
Local resident Ayyub Sheikh said that a large number of foreigners from different countries visit Dharavi as tourists to see its spirit and character up close.
“But once the huts are demolished (for redevelopment), Dharavi will lose its appeal and international identity. The locals will move out of Mumbai once the redevelopment starts,” he added.
Seventy-year-old Usha Bai, a resident of Tata Power in Dharavi, who has been selling fruits there for the past more than 30 years, also expressed displeasure with the redevelopment project.
“We are happy here only because we don’t know what will happen to us in the future,” she said.
Another resident Rajaram Upadhyay wondered what would happen to hundreds of religious structures in Dharavi. “We welcome relocation, but everyone should be given appropriate accommodation,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Adani Group has faced protests around the world for its various projects in countries like Australia and Myanmar for allegedly violating environmental norms and lobbying politicians. The group has been accused of causing displacement caused by the development. Incidentally, his Vizhinjam port project in Kerala has faced stiff opposition from residents.