Mumbai: Ahead of Lok Sabha elections in April and May this year, the Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government approved a new model for the ambitious Dharavi redevelopment project. It also picked a company to implement the project after a quick round of tendering.
There was much chest-thumping by local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, who insisted that they got a stalled project off the ground in their very first term. They also pointed out that the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government could not do so for two consecutive terms despite initiating the project in 2004.
Six months on, there is an election again, this time to the state legislative assembly. The fast-tracked tender has still not materialised into an actual contract, and political campaigns along the narrow alleyways of Dharavi’s iconic slum clusters are once again promising bigger and better houses free of cost, like they have for every election over the past 15 years.
In those 15 years since the Dharavi makeover was first mooted, only 358 families have been moved out of their shanties to a well-ventilated high-rise — accounting for just 0.6 per cent of the total number of families to be rehabilitated under the project. As conditions stand, those who have resided in the slum before 1 January 2000 qualify as beneficiaries.
Despite new model and bids, project still in limbo
The Fadnavis government approved a new redevelopment plan last year, where the administration also steps in as a stakeholder to share the risks of the mammoth project.
After a quick round of tendering, the Dubai-based Seclink Technology Corporation emerged as the most preferred of the two bidders to implement the project with funding from the United Arab Emirates’ royal family. The state government is yet to hand over a formal work order to Seclink and is even considering re-tendering the project due to a technical issue — 45 acres of railway land abutting the Dharavi redevelopment area became a part of the project only after the tendering was concluded.
“The tender did mention the inclusion of railway land, but ambiguously, without any details of how much land, how many slum dwellers and structures will need to be rehabilitated on the land and so on,” a senior state government official, associated with the Dharavi revamp project, said. “So, the predicament is whether to go ahead with the existing tender and give the contract to Seclink or to go in for fresh bidding that will also include details of the railway land parcels.”
The state government has referred the matter to its attorney general for an opinion and is yet to get a response, the official said, adding that there are about 3,000-3,500 structures on the railway land that will need to be included in the rehabilitation by the developer.
Sena, Congress making similar promises, with different pitches
This time, neither Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis nor any other BJP leader has mentioned the Dharavi redevelopment project in their campaigns so far. In the BJP-Shiv Sena seat-sharing pact, Dharavi has gone to the latter.
Sena candidate Ashish More is avoiding toeing the state government’s line by promising to find a solution to the stalled tender soon, and is taking a more cautious position instead.
“People have a few demands that need to be considered in the project such as houses with a bigger carpet area,” More said. “Also, under the current plan, taxed properties and encroachments are being treated at the same level, which isn’t fair.”
“I don’t know what the politics behind delaying the contract to Seclink is, but Shiv Sena will take up all these issues with the government when we come to power,” he added.
More’s rival for the 21 October election, three-time Congress MLA Varsha Gaikwad, said she too is promising the electorate that she will let the redevelopment progress only if local residents’ demands are met.
“The BJP-led government has gone back on all its promises,” Gaikwad, the incumbent MLA, said. “The party promised bigger houses, but ultimately is giving only houses of 350 square feet, which was what our government was also offering and making it look like 405 square feet houses by adding the fungible area.”
She added that the Congress-NCP government had at least started work on Sector 5, the smallest and easiest of the five sectors of the Dharavi slum sprawl, which this government has now halted.
While More and Gaikwad’s promises to Dharavi’s voters with regards to the redevelopment project are on the same lines—bigger houses and more say in the project—they are making sure their pitches don’t sound the same.
“In 2013, we had gone to Gaikwad with a local problem. She confidently said the area doesn’t come under the Dharavi revamp project area. What should one expect from an MLA who doesn’t even know her constituency?” More said.
Meanwhile, Gaikwad said, “On what basis is the Shiv Sena saying it will get people’s issues regarding the Dharavi redevelopment project addressed? It has officially become younger brother of the alliance. It hardly has any say in the government.”