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Dharavi Slums: The Opportunity of the Millennium?

Posted on November 15, 2010 in Society

By Harleen Kaur:

A city within a city, Dharavi is one which has no end stretch of narrow dirty lanes, open sewers and cramped huts. About 18000 people are known to cramp themselves in an acre of land in these slums in spite of the fact that there is no continuous supply of running water, no healthcare and infrastructure, no sewage plans or even proper toilets. So why do people continue to live in such a place?

The answers to that question is quite simple. In a city where house rents are among the top highest in the world, Dharavi provides a cheap and affordable option to those people who move to Mumbai to earn their living. Rents here can be as low as Rs.185 per month which is great for poor people. Also as Dharavi is located between Mumbai’s two main suburban rail lines, most people find it convenient for work because it is easy to move. What is most astounding is the fact there are many people who have known no other homes i.e. they are second and third generation Dharavi residents.

“Nothing is built in a day” and the same principle applies to Dharavi. Originally an island and mangrove swamp, the area was originally inhabited by Koli fishermen and was consequently a fishing village. Today’s Dharavi bears no resemblance to the fishing village it once was and also some part it is. One wonders how the swamps and a fishing village turned into one of the largest slums in Asia. Well no guesses about who’s responsible for that: our very own Govt. How: In the 19th century the swamp areas were filled in. A dam at Sion, adjacent to Dharavi, hastened the process of joining separate islands into one long, tapered mass and an ill planned one at that with no concern for its people, environment, etc. Thus began the transformation of the island city of Bombay.

As times change so does outlook. Once ignored and termed as an eye-sore by the people and the Govt. the slum land is now one of the prime properties in Mumbai. Thanks to Mumbai’s financial vibrancy, it now lies next to one of its most sought-after commercial districts, the Bandra-Kurla Complex on one side and the Mumbai Airport on the other. As a result the Govt is now trying to under take the redevelopment of Dharavi which is certainly no small task. However when studied closely there are many flaws in this plan (which is valued at Rs 15,000 crore) and dubbed as “The Opportunity of the Millennium”.

For the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) to be successful, Dharavi needs to be viewed as a thriving and functioning urban settlement and not as a slum that needs to be flattened and rebuilt. It needs greatly improved infrastructure, particularly water and sanitation, and housing solutions must be tackled specifically, area-wise, keeping in mind people’s livelihood needs. Such an approach might result in more land being used than is currently envisaged in the DRP for Dharavi’s inhabitants. It would also mean lower profits for any developer who ventures to undertake such a project. But in the long run, it would allow Dharavi to redevelop in a way that retains its uniqueness but at the same time is environmentally sound and physically attractive.

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