14859 - SPECIAL ARTICLE Dharavi Makeover or Takeover...

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SPECIAL ARTICLE Economic & Political Weekly EPW june 12, 2010 vol xlv no 24 47 Dharavi: Makeover or Takeover? Shirish B Patel Dharavi in Mumbai exemplifies what is most ugly and what is most inspiring about slum life in a city. How should it be redeveloped to remove the ugliness and yet retain its community spirit, enterprise, ambitions and hope? Current plans are focused on profit-making, by developers and government, with the welfare of the residents an incidental nuisance. This article examines the many attendant constraints in developing viable solutions. One is the promise of free pucca housing for slum-dwellers, which seems to have become a given for all slum redevelopment schemes in Mumbai. Another is the fact that Dharavi already has the highest living densities in the world, and redevelopment of the kind that is proposed will triple these densities, making living there unviable. The result could be that the present residents will sell out and flee, leaving Dharavi in the hands of high-income occupants living at more comfortable densities. An alternative would be to provide the essential infrastructure of water supply and sanitation, frame rules for redevelopment, and leave it to organisations of the residents themselves to take up reconstruction as and when they wish, in consonance with an overall plan. D haravi is an extraordinary conundrum: a happy, thriv- ing, prosperous place with the most insanitary, inhuman and degrading working and living conditions imagina- ble. No one will contest that its most disgusting aspects need to be improved. And no one will deny that in many ways it is an in- spiring place, with a strong sense of community, negligible crime, and a great deal of cheerfulness and vigorous hope. It is obvious that the abominable aspects are a consequence of official denial – no sewerage or safe water supply, drains open, insanitary, and chemically contaminated – and the admirable aspects have been brought about by the people themselves, who live and work there and have built, without subsidy or support, whatever it is they have. How can Dharavi’s ugly aspects be changed? There is enormous pressure for the redevelopment of Dharavi from forces whose primary interest is not the welfare of Dharavi’s people, but the hunt for profits, where the government of Mahar- ashtra is a declared partner. This has to be consistent with a peaceful transition – that is, not too much blood on the streets. Residents must somehow be enticed to accept redevelopment that will generate huge profits for developers (of the order of tens of thousands of crores – the state government alone expects Rs 9,000 crore as its premium). Essentially this means that the residents, already living at densities among the highest in the world, must be persuaded to move into part of the land area they currently occupy, in high-rise buildings packed closely together.
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