Home / Politics / News /  Dharavi redevelopment plan is robbing us of space: residents

Mumbai: Sanjay Khandare is anxious. The 30-year-old Dharavi resident who owns a leather goods factory is sure he will be robbed of space, small as his shopfloor may seem—a shack, wedged between rows of similar shacks in Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi.

The slum is in the heart of Mumbai city, where real estate prices top that of Manhattan. The paucity of real estate in the city and India’s booming economy have coupled to create an urgent need to move the slum out and create spanking new commercial and residential space.

A Rs9,260 crore redevelopment plan, drawn up by US-trained architect Mukesh Mehta, is in the pipeline.

“What will happen to my factory under the Dharavi redevelopment plan? Will I get the same area that my unit occupies now?" asks Khandare.

“The way I understand the redevelopment plan, I will get only 225 sq. ft, regardless how much area I own now," he adds. And Khandare’s worries are not entirely baseless.

Mehta’s plan seeks to carve up the area into distinct zones—a residential area with schools, hospitals and other amenities; and four commercial zones including a gem and jewellery district and a leather district. It will also provide for the 57,000 families that currently live in the slum, according to the government. Each family will get 225 sq. ft of space in multi-storeyed buildings that will be maintained by the developer for a 15-year period. The developers must provide 30 million sq. ft of housing, schools, parks and roads for these families. In return, they can build 40 million sq. ft of homes and offices for sale.

The Dharavi redevelopment plan is a part of the Maharashtra government’s effort to transform Mumbai into an international finance centre (IFC). An ambitious Rs50,000 crore makeover plan for the city drawn up by the state government envisages setting up an integrated urban transport system combining the suburban rail network with a metro rail system and sea links. It also envisions the creation of new housing projects for the middle and lower classes as proposed in a new housing policy.

Dharavi itself has grown at much the same pace as the city of Mumbai. In the Gazetteer Of Bombay City And Island (1909), Dharavi is mentioned as one of the “six great Koliwadas of Bombay," or the original fishing communities that inhabited the islands that made up the city. The original inhabitants of Dharavi were the Kolis who lived at the edge of the creek that came in from the Arabian Sea, though over time it became a settlement of the urban poor. Dharavi today, however, is a self-contained community with a range of thriving businesses from leather goods to jewellery; the slum even has a bank.

The near-organized slum with its self-sustaining and ever exploding economy has spawned another set of problems related to resident count. Dharavi residents claim there is no baseline survey that accurately records the number of residents in the area. Mehta claims that his team had carried out a survey in 2004 detailing plot sizes and ownership details—a copy of this survey was shown to Mint by Mehta along with a plot survey. However, this document lacks details such as the name of the person occupying a plot and the kind of business he or she is engaged in.

“Why do I need to know who lives here? I just need the details of the land survey and the number of the plot on which the structure stands for my planning purposes," says Mehta.It is on the basis of this survey that 57,000 families have been earmarked for rehabilitation.

Jokin Arputham, president of the Dharavi Bachao Andolan and National Slum Dwellers’ Federation, says that a majority of plots have more than one storey, which have been rented out. “This has not been taken into account in the present plan, which means that as many 30-40% of the residents will not be rehabilitated." Magsaysay award winner Arputham, who has been at the forefront of organizing the slum dwellers, is demanding that these tenants should also be accommodated in the redevelopment plan.

Then there’s the issue of finding place where residents can continue to run the businesses they have built up over years, sometimes generations.

Khandare’s leather business operates from a 1,500 sq. ft shed that houses his office as well as the manufacturing unit. Most of the workers live in nearby homes.

Govind Parmar and Arvind Bhikubhai Tak of the Kumbharvada (potters’ colony) share Khandare’s concerns.

Three generations of Parmar’s and Tak’s families live and work from two-storeyed structures of 3,000 sq. ft each with a potters’ kiln outside, along with a pit that serves as a storage for the clay that they import from Gujarat. Their houses also serve as storehouses with all the finished pots being stacked in the front portion before being shipped off. “Are they going to give us a 225 sq. ft tenement in lieu of this place?" asks Parmar’s 80-year-old mother.

Under the redevelopment plan, residents who own up to 250 sq .ft of space will get a 225 sq. ft tenement free, while those who own more than 250 sq. ft will get space according to a specified formula—they will get 225 sq. ft free, will have to give up 10% of the difference (between what they owned and 225 sq. ft), and buy the rest at construction cost. For instance, under the redevelopment plan, a person who currently owns a 1,000 sq. ft tenement will get 922.5 sq. ft: 225 sq. ft for free, and 697.5 sq. ft at cost.

This formula applies to all commercial as well as residential tenements.

At the current construction cost of Rs800 to Rs1,000 per square foot, someone with 1,000 sq. ft of space will have to pay up to Rs7 lakh to retain 922 sq. ft. So, while Khandare may have to pay up to Rs11.47 lakh for a 1,372 sq. ft space under the new plan, the Parmars may have to pay up to Rs25 lakh for a 2,722 sq. ft space.

This, despite the government’s plan to let builders construct up to four times the existing floor space as an incentive for giving free housing to the slum dwellers. Floor space index, or FSI, specifies how much built-up area is allowed on a given plot of land. The FSI in the Mumbai city area that Dharavi comes under is one—that means on a one acre plot, a builder can construct a floor area of equal measure; however an FSI of four means that builders can build four times the plot size.

“Why should we pay to retain what is ours in the first place?" asks Bharati Parmar, Govind Parmar’s daughter.

“If the government is anyway giving four FSI to the developer, why can they not give us what we already have? The government is anyway making money on the plan. Why do they want money from us too?" she adds.

According to Mehta, the government stands to earn Rs2,000 crore from the granting of development rights to developers. Mehta, who has been retained by the government as consultant on the project, says the plan visualizes the creation of a special zone for the potters. The Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design (NID) has agreed to set up a ceramic training centre for the potters here, he adds. “It will add value to their existing skills and for those who don’t want to upgrade, we are ready to help them build a state-of-the-art kiln, which can be run by their own cooperative. We are willing to get them trained and organized," he says.

Mehta claims that this plan has been shared with the potters. The potters’ colony occupies 12 acres right on the southern edge of the 535-acre slum adjoining Matunga.

Arputham says residents need more space and that the tenement size needs to be increased to 300 sq. ft.

“It will really improve the quality of life here as well as acknowledge the fact that the family size here is much more than the typical four-five members in other parts of the city. That is the reason most slum tenements have an additional floor or two. These realities of life in Dharavi are not being acknowledged in the present plan. There is no way a family of 10 can live in 225 sq. ft space," he adds.

“Legal or not, most people here have paid for the houses they live in, there is a strong sense of ownership. You can’t just throw these people out," says Arputham.

This is the second in a two-part series on Dharavi and looks at what the redevelopment means for the slum’s residents. The proposed redevelopment has attracted attention from developers, both Indian and foreign, hoping to cash in on the demand for residential and commercial space in Mumbai. It has also led to protests by residents, many of whom run thriving businesses out of the slum.

To read the first part of the series go to www.livemint.com/dharavi.htm

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