Bangalore: Hiralal Rathore, like his father and grandfather before him, lives and works as a potter in India’s biggest slum in the heart of Mumbai. He wants to stay there.
“This is the fourth generation you see around me,” said Rathore, 44, as his two children stacked pots to be fired in a nearby brick kiln. “If they try and take away my livelihood, I am going to fight them with every means possible.”
Rathore is one of about 600,000 residents of Dharavi, a century-old warren of shacks, clan businesses and open sewers sprawled over marshland the size of Monaco in India’s richest city. On 1 June, the Maharashtra government invited bids on a $2.3 billion (Rs9,338 crore then) project to build homes and offices on more than half the land, promising free apartments to the scrap dealers, recyclers, garment makers and other urban poor who live there.
Black flags of protest are flying in Dharavi’s trash-strewn alleyways. While authorities say the makeover will rehabilitate the communities, many doubt they will be better off.
“This project is meant for developers to mint money and not to help us,” said Jockin Arputham, 60, founder and president of the National Slum Dwellers Federation, who moved to Dharavi from Bangalore at age 16.
Arputham’s group helped hold up the project last year during negotiations about the fate of businesses and the size of the new homes. Many people fear that there will be no space for their workshops, shops and kilns, he said. Talks are continuing.
If they aren’t satisfied with the outcome, residents will cut Mumbai’s two main rail lines by lying across tracks that border the slum, Arputham said.
“I know this is holding the city to ransom,” he said. “But look at the bargain we are getting: We get a good house, but we lose our employment.”
Slum dwellers aren’t alone in doubting the Maharashtra government’s intentions.
Property shortages in Mumbai, built on seven islands, have helped make the city the world’s fifth most-expensive business location, behind London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris, according to real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield Inc.
“This is a piece of real estate right in the middle of the city,” said Neeraj Hatekar, a director at the Council of Social Science Research in Mumbai. “I think the commercial motive plays a stronger part than rehabilitation,” he added.
Under the plan, developers must provide 30 million sq. ft of housing, schools, parks and roads for 57,531 Dharavi families. In return, they can build 40 million sq. ft of homes and offices for sale.
The developers must also provide 4,000 temporary apartments near Dharavi to house residents while building work proceeds.
Among those interested: Mumbai-based Reliance Industries Ltd, India’s biggest company; Dubai-based Emaar Properties PJSC, the largest publicly traded developer in the Persian Gulf; and local developers DLF Ltd, Mahindra Gesco Developers Ltd and K Raheja Corp., said S.S. Tandale, assistant engineer at Maharashtra’s Slum Rehabilitation Authority. Bids close on 31 July.
“This is the first step to make Mumbai an international financial hub,” said Mukesh Mehta, the chief architect, who proposed the project in 1997.
Slum dwellers fear the temporary housing is a ploy to clear the area, Arputham said. Only residents on the 1 January 1995 electoral roll and with structures on the redevelopment site, are eligible for new homes.
In addition, the promised 225 sq. ft apartments will be built in eight-storied blocks. That leaves no room for the businesses now housed in two-floor shacks, with workshops at ground level and living quarters above, Arputham said.
Threat to jobs
“Initially there will be some confusion and resistance,” said D.S. Malvankar, joint director of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority. “People are scared they will lose their employment. We are assuring them they will not be displaced,” he added.
Dharavi’s industries generate about $1 billion of revenue a year, Malvankar said. Polluting businesses such as leather tanneries and plastic recyclers will be relocated to the outskirts of Mumbai, he said.
K. Veluswamy, 54, said he would cooperate if the government responds to residents’ demands.
“Who would not be happy to leave this place?” asked the part-time laboratory assistant. “We are looking for a peaceful place to live, a place where children can have a good education,” Veluswamy added.
Most slum dwellers share communal water taps and get power by illegally tapping into the city grid. Mosquito-infested drains that serve some residents as toilets, flood during monsoons.
Narendra Kumar, 45, who sells cooking pots, said he has nowhere to go.
“Dharavi is my home for two generations,” he said. “Will they give me a new home? Will my family be able to survive in the future? Those are questions which have no answers as of now,” Kumar added.
Rathore, the potter, said he is having trouble sleeping as he contemplates his future. The potters’ colony was granted space in Dharavi by British colonialists.
“We potters live off the earth, we need land for its soil,” Rathore said. “What sort of development is this when we are about to lose our livelihood?” he asked.