Mumbai: Fifteen years, two false starts, see-sawing plans and headlines about high-rises and free houses before elections.
This is the story of what is touted to be the biggest redevelopment project in Mumbai — the transformation of Dharavi, famous on the global tourist map as Asia’s biggest slum sprawl with a bustling economy of cottage industries, tanneries and pottery workshops.
Fifteen 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 free of cost under the project. As conditions stand, those who have resided in the slum since before 1 January 2000 qualify as beneficiaries.
Two more buildings, which can accommodate about 650 families, are ready, but there is no clarity on when these homes are likely to be handed over, a senior official of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) said.
The authority was redeveloping the least complicated part of Dharavi, that is, the area where the government owns more land and there are fewer slum-dwellers. But it has now been asked to hand it back to the state government’s Dharavi Redevelopment Project Authority, the agency in charge of the project, with a new overhaul plan set to kick in.
The Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government, which faces an election this year, 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 state is in the process of finalising Dubai’s Seclink Technology Corporation to implement the project with the funding of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family.
The new plan
Unlike previous approaches, where the government tried to slice Dharavi into five sectors under multiple developers tasked with revamping them, the Fadnavis-led government has decided to combine all five sectors across 240 hectares as one whole, and have a special purpose vehicle (SPV) with a single lead developer.
Earlier this year, Seclink emerged as the highest bidder, quoting Rs 7,200 crore, followed by Adani Infrastructure, which bid Rs 4,539 crore.
The Dharavi Redevelopment Project Authority of the state government will have a 20 per cent stake in the SPV and will bring Rs 100 crore in equity.
Additionally, the railways, which has 107 acres in two parcels in Dharavi, has agreed to hand over 45 acres for the project on a 99-year-old lease for Rs 3,800 crore.
The project, the cost of which is estimated to be about Rs 26,000 crore, will involve giving free houses to about 59,000 families of slum-dwellers who settled in Dharavi before 2000. About 13,000 commercial units set up before the deadline will also be rehabilitated. Slum-dwellers living in hutments built before 1 January 2011 will get houses at the construction cost.
A senior state government official working on the project said, “We think that the project is likely to succeed this time. Neither the government nor the developer can do this alone in our experience of failed plans. So, an SPV with both the government and the developer is a good idea.”
There is, however, considerable scepticism surrounding the plan.
“The state government has to first give us an updated survey to show plot-wise details of occupants and the use of space, whether commercial or residential, and second, a plan to show exactly where the rehabilitation and sale components are going to be located,” said Raju Korde, convenor of the Dharavi Bachao Andolan, an umbrella organisation of activists from different political and social groups formed to ensure the slum’s redevelopment serves the interests of its residents.
“In all their plans so far, neither the previous Congress-NCP government nor this [BJP-Shiv Sena] government has given these details to us,” he added.
Varsha Gaikwad, the Congress leader who serves as MLA for Dharavi, slammed the plan, saying locals had not been taken into confidence.
“The plan is only to benefit one developer,” she added. “People come to me for answers as I am the public representative of Dharavi, but despite my many attempts, the government hasn’t given me any information about the plan. From what I hear, locals will be displaced while most of the plum areas will be given to the builder as the sale component.”
Dharavi and elections
Since the project was first conceived in 2004, successive state governments seem to have taken every major decision just ahead of either the Lok Sabha, assembly or civic polls.
The area, nestled between the plush Bandra Kurla Complex and the residential localities of Mahim, Matunga and Sion, was a Congress bastion for the better part of the past two decades.
The party’s grip over Dharavi has, however, loosened over the years due to anti-incumbency and resentment over the Congress-NCP government’s failure to get the redevelopment project started in 10 years from 2004 to 2014, while it was in office in the state.
The area currently has a Shiv Sena MP and a Congress MLA, while the councillor wards are split between the Congress, the BJP and the Shiv Sena.
According to Korde, while the redevelopment of Dharavi is no more an election issue for the residents of the slum sprawl, who are disillusioned with the project’s false starts, political parties still make it one as it helps them even beyond Dharavi.
“Dharavi is a mix of cultures, religions and languages and symbolically represents Mumbai. Announcements for Dharavi send a message to slum-dwellers across Maharashtra,” he added.