This month November 2014, the results of a very peculiar competition should be published “Reinventing Dharavi, an International Ideas Competition”. It is peculiar because Dharavi has attracted so much international attention and was protrayed in the film Slumdog Millionaire, many tours are offered to visit or even spend a few days with locals. International study groups led by reknown universities like Columbia; private social investigators have made their experiences in Dharavi public through YouTube; there are apps that simulate driving through the slum.
More than half the city is made up of slums, but this one in particular shows the contrasts between the extremes of wealth and poverty, both because it has become a valuable land strategically placed between the airport and maritime port, and across a river bed from the equivalent of Wall Street in New York. Also the slum is a very succesfull center of production accounting for a big chunk of the city’s exports. The value of land is one of the highest in the world. Not two institutions coincide on a number of inhabitants for Dharavi, they vary from 300.000 to a million and the surveys are very difficult since the processes of redevelopment have been going on forever, and people only want to be left alone. Some say Dharavi is 10 times more dense than Mumbai which is already very densely populated. The last of several attempts to improve the slum, the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP), has been extremely polemic. Some people support the plan: “Dharavi Redevelopment Project is a very high profile project which is being watched at national as well as international levels. Besides the slum dwellers, many other stakeholders have become involved over the years, including political leaders, government officials, state agencies, civic societies and various NGOs, international donors, builders and developers. Mr. Mehta’s philosophy for creating a successful development project is to meet the interests of all stakeholders and create a win-win situation for everyone involved. The large budget and radical design of the project have been the source of many questions and much confusion. Maintaining communications and resolving personal conflicts among stakeholders has turned out to be a major obstacle. Mr. Mehta communicates with fourteen different organizations in the government and distributes information to all related parties.” (1) While many frankly oppose DRP because previous substitute housing of very low quality has fell in abandonment and disrepair after short years. “Despite its plastic and tin structures and lack of infrastructure, Dharavi is a unique, vibrant, and thriving ‘cottage’ industry complex, the only one of its kind in the world. Its ‘unplanned’, and spontaneous development has led to the emergence of an economic model characterised by decentralised production relying on temporary work and self-employment. Production is flexible and adaptable and its viability is evidenced by the national and international markets reached. If Dharavi is redeveloped as an in situ development, its contribution to the city’s economy will continue and grow. But if residents were resettled in multi-storey towers with 30sq. metres cubbyhole apartments – as a US developer (Mehta) of Indian origin suggested, and which the state government accepted – erstwhile residents would find it impossible to carry on their work and contribute to the economy. Many jobs include textile and leather working, labelled as heavily polluting, which will be banned under the redevelopment plan. “ (2) The dwellers vary in their positions: quoting Ramachandra Korde a community leader “Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) being proposed by the government is not about human development, but about land development. It is set to destroy the entire structure that the poor have developed on their own, instead of improving on it. It is being considered only as a business deal for everybody, for the builders, architects and politicians alike. In the past, people have sold the apartments where they were relocated under the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme (SRS), and left for other places because the new housing did not meet people’s requirements. Now, a similar thing may happen under the DRP.“ (3) It is not a simple problem when there are so many interests at stake. Mumbai’s interest is becoming a world class financial hub, but the economic independence achieved by thousands of small entrepreneurs cannot be dissolved without consequences. Being a place of reception of people in search of temporary work in the city, the combination of varied segments of incomes, the lowest in the chain besides those who have made their way up, but chose to stay in Dharavi. Their social life is very tightly knit with the street life, they wash, work, use public toilets and eat on the streets; those are social activities not individual ones as used in western cultures. The urban lines of work to treat informal areas have shifted since the 50´s demolition strategies through sites and services, to redevelopment, re-urbanizing and participative upgrading. The world should be interested on the type of answers Indian society produces/adopts for these issues, they have to be both sustainable and replicable to more than half the urban footprint. The deficiencies of Dharavi cannot be put off since the frequent floods damage circulation creates economic losses, health hazards; the pollution of water sources, effects of informal industry over air quality. The competion was, then, a real challenge. We hope more actors seek to stimulate urban thinking and participation before acting. Whether the decision is based on high rise structures, or financial schemes to achieve a more efficient network of service infrastructure, answers are needed soon, for a violent population growth is knocking at our doors. A successful intervention can be more convincing than plans to target population. Maybe a functioning sector can demonstrate a point better than a thousand drawings. (1) Modernizing Dharavi (An Urban Slum In India) If You Build, Will They Come? Dr. Abhijit Roy, D.B.A. (2) World’s most famous slum must be remodelled not redeveloped Prakash M Apte (3) Ramachandra Korde Forewords MUMBAI DHARAVI – SCENARIOS FOR DEVELOPMENT