Thursday, April 10, 2008

Transforming Mumbai to Shanghai: Is the Dharavi Makeover- A Plan Or A Pipedream?

"When we talk of a resurgent Asia, people think of the great changes that have come about in Shanghai. I share this aspiration to transform Mumbai in the next five years in such a manner that people would forget about Shanghai and Mumbai will become a talking point,"
-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (October 2004)

Shanghai dreams in Mumbai’s eyes

It’s a race between the tiger and the dragon and while some economists believe that the gap is fast closing in, for Mumbai to take the Shanghai route is an uphill task, its biggest road block being the vibrant democracy.

"I have a dream that we can do it," the Prime Minister said in 2004. And the Congress-led state government in Maharashtra drew up $ 6.5 billion plan to make this dream a reality.

Shanghai skyscrapers on Dharavi debris

Dharavi, Asia’s second largest slum, is the government’s most ambitious and controversial project towards turning Mumbai into its Chinese counterpart. Construction firms- both Indian and global[1]- are bidding to get a slice of this Rs 9300 crore ($2.3bn) Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) that promises to build Shanghai skyscrapers on Dharavi’s debris.

Dharavi’s underground business

According to the state government[2], eight out of the fourteen million people in Mumbai live in slums with 600,000 to a million living in Dharavi, a world of massive, sprawling slums, heart wrenching poverty and squalor. In its twisted lanes and back alleys runs a conglomerate of cottage industries of export quality garments, leather, pottery, ceramics, artefacts, electronics, savoury snacks among others. The annual turnover is estimated to be Rs 3,000 crore ($750m) a year.

On an average each of them earns Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 15,000 ($75-370) monthly, with major exporters making as much as Rs. 300,000 to Rs. 400,000 ($7500-10000) a month. At its lowest, Dharavi generates Rs. 4 crore ($1m) a day[3].  Dharavi is one of the most inspiring economic models in Asia but most of its businesses are illegal. No taxes are paid and the government gets no revenue.

Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP)

The DRP proposes that slum dwellers with names in the 1995 electoral roll  and with existing structures, which are about 57000 families, will be rehabilitated for free in a self contained tenement with a carpet area of 225 sq ft through developers appointed by the state government.

For all slum rehabilitation schemes in the city, the consent of 70 per cent residents has been mandatory to make them transparent and democratic. But as per a government notification, the state said no consent from Dharavi residents is required. “The argument is that the state is the guarantor that people will get homes, so consent is not required,” said the then Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA)[4] executive officer on special duty, I S Chahal. [i] 

It's a stance which has seen the birth of the Dharavi Bachao Andolan (Save Dharavi Movement)[5]. “There is no transparency in the process. At least another 35,000 families should be rehabilitated,” said Jockin Arputham[ii], Magsaysay award winner and the president of India’s National Slum Dwellers Federation.

Dharavi Inc and Concerns

Watch video: Dharavi Inc - NDTV

With the implementation of DRP, several cottage industries will shut down. The Khandares, owners of a leather processing unit have lived in Dharavi for generations. “In 1920 my grandfather came to Dharavi and built on this marshy land from scratch,” Madhukar Khandare[iii] says proudly.  Over four generations, the Khandares have seen Dharavi grow into the hub of export-quality leather- a Rs 3 crore ($7.5m) industry employing over 200,000 people.

“Development is very important as the living conditions are pathetic. But it is equally important to protect the industries,” says Khandare.

As we walk through Dharavi’s 90 feet road, named for obvious reasons, we meet Zainab Sheikh[iv] who invites us for tea and conversation. An offer we couldn’t pass. Zainab’s story is all about numbers. Her husband works in a recycling plant earning Rs 3000 ($750) a month while she earns half of that through odd tailoring jobs. Zainab’s family of eight lives in a 15x10 room. “The nearest municipal tap is 50 feet away and we need to stand in queue for two hours for water that is often contaminated,” she says.

Zainab estimates her room would sell for Rs 10-12 lakh ($25000-30000). “If we stay, we will get new homes, bigger ones,” she says. “But the workshops will all go. A home with water and electricity would mean higher maintenance costs but with no jobs, how will we pay the bills?”

The DRP wants all polluting and hazardous processes to go. And the recycling plants in Dharavi’s 13th compound are on the road to closure.

Abu Khalid Anjum[v], a bespectacled man in his late forties, is the owner of a plastic recycling plant and the chairman of Dharavi Business Welfare Association representing 20,000 warehouses. His position gives us easy access to many units, otherwise away from public scrutiny.

Running all along this labyrinthine are scavengers- mainly children bringing in the treasures found in municipal dumps. Piles of tin cans, plastic bags, computer parts, car batteries, oil cans are then segregated for recycling.

Sound of grinding, hammering, drilling echoes loudly on our way to Anjum’s unit where two men sort plastic waste into multicoloured bins. These will then get grinded and melted to be made into toys.

‘My imported machines emit no toxins,’ explains Anjum. “People think Dharavi is a dirty place. But if you stop recycling, entire Mumbai will become Dharavi,” he says.
Anjum continues, ‘Here old is recycled into new. Similarly Dharavi’s old homes and businesses will have to go and new ones come in its place. But how do we operate our business from the fifth floor?’ asks Anjum.

We move to Kumbharwada, the paradise of potters. Raju Chouhan[vi] shows us his workshop- a 3000 sq ft two storey structure with a brick oven in the backyard where red mud is made into clay. A rickety wooden ladder links the floors where men churn pots at breathtaking speed, and women paint designs on diyas (earthen candles) that are shipped to Europe and America.

“I need a 3000 sq ft workshop. How can I operate out of 225 sq ft? I can’t even fit my family of twelve in it,” argues Chouhan.

Smaller homes, sky high prices

A few kilometres away lies Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), one of Mumbai's gleaming business districts. Real estate prices in BKC are Rs. 40,000 a square foot, four times of Dharavi.

The DRP will release 7 crore square feet for construction of which the developers can sell at least 4 crore square feet in the open market. That's twice the size of Mumbai’s premier business districts Nariman Point and BKC together.

Mukesh Mehta[vii], the architect behind DRP says this will turn Dharavi- an encroached land- into a valuable resource. Residents will get a free 225 sq ft self contained tenement with township amenities like school, colleges, hospitals and parks. Employment will be generated through a special economic zone[6] having gems and jewellery, ceramic, and other industries.

On the demand for bigger homes, Mehta says, “A practical solution for residents with larger house would be for the government to give 225 sq ft for free and 50% to 70% additional area at discounted rate.”

But Raju Korde[viii] who leads the Dharavi Bachao Andolan from an office of the Communist Party of India (Marxists) says, “No slum dweller will be able to pay market rates for additional area.” Korde believes it is all a political game influenced by powerful builders. “The residents are poor victims caught in this political battle,” he says.

A reason to celebrate

On April 4, the Supreme Court allowed the state to extend the eligibility criteria to January 1, 2000 (from 1995). “The figure has gone up to 87,200 families from the initial 57,000 families” says Ravindra Adsure[ix], standing counsel for Maharashtra in the Supreme Court.

Also the government recently promised to review the resident’s biggest problem with DRP – Space. A proposal to extend the area from 225 sq ft studio flat to a bigger 275 sq ft apartment is in the pipeline.

But in India, democracy means that one has to take the staircase to economic development, not the elevator, as in China.

And as Jockin says, “A battle may have been won, but the war is far from over.”

[1] Bidding criteria excludes companies whose net worth is less than $700 mn and whose annual turnover in the past three years was under $600 mn. They must also have experience developing seven million square feet in at least one 100 acre township.

[2] Slum Rehabilitation Authority is the state’s special cell to look into redevelopment of slums. Its chairman is the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Vilasrao Deshmukh.
[3] Sources: UN Habitat, National Slum Dwellers Federation, Indian Government.
[4] SRA is the Project Implementation Agency for DRP. Its Executive officer on Special duty monitors all aspects related to project planning and implementation of DRP.
[5] Dharavi Bachao Andolan (Save Dharavi Movement) is a coalition of over 20 groups opposing the DRP.
[6] A special economic zone is proposed in Dharavi to increase the present contribution of Dharavi businesses/industries to the GDP of the nation. This SEZ will house gems and jewellery factories, leather industry, InfoTech and other non-polluting industries. This together will generate a turnover of approx Rs 7000 crore and employment opportunities for 150,000 people.

List of Interviews:
[i] Interview with Iqbal Singh Chahal, Officer on Special Duty, Slum Rehabilitation Authority for Dharavi Redevelopment Project at SRA office, Griha Nirman Bhavan, Bandra East, Mumbai.
[ii] Interview with Jockin Arputham, President, National Slum Dwellers Federation at NSDF office, Mahim, Mumbai
[iii] Interview with Madhukar Khandare, owner of leather processing unit, Apna Street in Dharavi
[iv] Interview with Zainab Sheikh, tailor, 90 Feet road, Dharavi
[v] Interview with Abu Khalid Anjum, Chairman, Dharavi Business Welfare Association, owner  of plastic recycling plant, 13th compound, Dharavi
[vi] Interview with Raju Chouhan, owner of pottery unit, Kumbharwada, Dharavi
[vii] Telephonic interview with Mukesh Mehta, architect and urban planner for Dharavi Redevelopment Project.
[viii] Interview with Raju Korde, leader of Communist Party of India (Marxists) and President, Dharavi Bachao Andolan (Save Dharavi Movement), Dharavi
[ix]  Telephonic Interview with Ravindra Adsure, standing counsel for Maharashtra state in the Supreme Court.

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