Mumbai: As Dharavi, Asia’s largest shanty town, inches towards a Rs13,000-crore makeover, its planned transition from a squatter settlement of 55,000 families to an urban showpiece—with towering apartments in well-planned blocks and contemporary workplaces—will be overseen by a new chief executive officer.
Gautam Chatterjee, an Indian Administrative Service officer of the 1982 batch, has been handpicked to head the Dharavi Development Authority by the Maharashtra government to speed up the project after two of his predecessors quit in the last two years.
Slum makeover: Gautam Chatterjee, head of Dharavi Development Authority, says the most crucial task is to convince the residents of Dharavi that redevelopment of the slum is for their own good.
Chatterjee was the first director of the Prime Minister’s Grant Project (PMGP) which spent Rs100 crore for housing projects in Dharavi in the 1980s, and later headed the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) in Mumbai for three years. Jockin Arputham, head of the National Slumdwellers Federation and a Magsaysay Award winner, who has been an activist in Dharavi for 20 years, says Chatterjee’s biggest strength is his familiarity with each bylane of the area and his concern for its people.
Over the years, Dharavi, once a fishermen’s settlement, has turned into a colony of immigrants who live across 535 acres, less than a kilometre away from the Bandra-Kurla business complex.
Chatterjee, 52, says “Dharavi is a city within a city.” Dharavi has been the subject of global attention with Dubai-based real estate firm Limitless, Africa Israel Investments Ltd and Lehman Brothers Inc. teaming up with Indian developers to bid for redevelopment that would take seven years to finish.
The makeover buzz has already sent up real estate prices, with a single bedroom-hall-kitchen now costing more than Rs28 lakh.
In his first interview to the media after being appointed CEO of Dharavi Development Authority, Chatterjee talks about the various stumbling blocks in the way of the project. Edited excerpts:
Your predecessors quit abruptly. Is the CEO in a perpetual hot seat, with huge political pressure?
There is a lot of pressure to execute the project fast. I don’t pay heed to any other pressure. The project is for the people of Dharavi, who have, over time, bought slum quarters to solve their housing problem in Mumbai because they couldn’t afford anything better. They aren’t encroachers. They too have paid fat amounts to slumlords to get themselves a 220 sq. ft tenement there. The project’s objective is their mass economic upliftment by providing better alternatives of living and business opportunities.
Nineteen consortiums of developers qualified for the bid this January and nothing has moved since then. There hasn’t even been a pre-bid meeting. Why?
There are a number of ongoing crucial surveys such as the baseline socio-economic survey and biometric surveys which will give us exact figures of the number of slum-dwellers eligible for rehabilitation. Without the survey results, it would be misleading to go ahead with the bidding process because we wouldn’t be able to give the required details to bidders.
Weren’t the surveys supposed to be done before floating global tenders?
Yes, ideally the bidding conditions for any such project are based on these survey findings. But I am not hurrying the process because the entire project will shape up according to the figures that come out. Later a pre-bid meeting will be called with the short-listed teams.
What are the key challenges you face to ensure that the project starts to roll?
The single most crucial task is to convince and convey the message to the 55,000 families of Dharavi that the redevelopment is for their good and that the government is doing it to scale up their economic abilities.
(Also), we still don’t have answers to what happens to economic activities that thrive in the area during the redevelopment. How will they sustain through the construction period when the project is executed?
We still have to find answers to how certain businesses like pottery, which is generally done in ground-level homes now, can be continued if they are relocated on the 10th floor of a tower.
Has there been a gap in communication which has led to protests against the redevelopment?
People across all the 85 nagars within Dharavi need to be mobilized and I shall use all resources available, political and apolitical, to put across the right message. I am talking to the multiple groups that operate here—politicians, social activists, urban planners, government and of course, the people of Dharavi—to get this project going.
There are 63 ongoing slum redevelopment projects in Mumbai. Why is Dharavi special?
Dharavi is a city by itself for its sheer size and (size of) its economy and the project needs to be addressed in that light. Its redevelopment is special because it is not restricted to plot developments like other slum projects, but here we are modifying development regulations to give rise to a new city.