Why Bombay Cares: Dharavi runs into a wall again

The Adani Group got the project to redevelop Dharavi. But residents have their apprehensions

Getty Images
Getty Images

Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra

No entry to Adani’, read posters in Dharavi. The Adani Group, which was awarded the contract last November to redevelop Asia’s largest slum, has run into resistance from residents. The group’s travails in the stock market have now made the redevelopment scheme even more uncertain. The controversial contract has also been challenged in the court by the Saudi conglomerate that had put in the highest bid.

Resistance from residents is building up partly because the group, typically, held no consultation with the people who will be affected. Their apprehensions are multi-layered. While the slum is spread over 600 acres, residents allege that only 100 acres is meant for rehabilitation of the people. The remaining land, they suspect, will be used for premium real estate to ensure windfall profit for the developer, leaving them out in the cold.

Their other grouse is that the rehabilitation plan has been prepared without a fresh and credible survey. While the data relied on by the plan was collected in 2011, the survey had left out thousands of otherwise eligible people, they complain. Rajendra Korde, president of Dharavi Redevelopment Samiti claims that half the legitimate residents of Dharavi have been left out. There are people who have lived here since 1985 and yet do not figure in surveys done, Korde alleges. The Adani Group and the state government need to first clear doubts about the eligibility for relocation and rehabilitation. “We have been told that only 54,000 legal and authorised structures are going to be part of the Dharavi redevelopment. The rest will be rendered homeless,” says Baburao Mane, president of Dharavi Bachao Andolan.

“There are approximately 4,000 idli vendors and around 6,000 people in Dharavi who survive by selling tea across the city on bicycles. There are women who eke out a living by doing intricate embroideries and making imitation and costume jewellery. The redevelopment, they fear, will put them out of business or in the least, make their operations far more costly, points out Anil Kasare.

Dharavi, Kasare argues, is known for its low cost production of goods. International companies source finished or semi-finished products from Dharavi because of high level of skills and low production cost. If this informal and unorganised sector is destabilised global brands will move to Vietnam or Bangladesh while small entrepreneurs in Dharavi will be the losers and end up poorer.

He goes on to add, “Dharavi is like a city in itself and has complex issues. But even after winning the bid, the Adani Group chose not to talk to us. Now we don’t wish to deal with them.” Residents continue to hold lane by lane, sector by sector meetings in Dharavi late in the evening. They want the government to reconsider the contract allotted to Adani.

Guesstimates place the annual turnover of Dharavi’s commercial units at about one billion US dollars. The units in the unorganised sector manufacture everything from suitcases to leather goods, from lightweight leather jackets to footwear. The products range from buttons, shirt collars to sequinned fabric, from units recycling plastic to units making sweets, savouries and even medicines.

There are also polluting dyeing and printing units because of which the gutters are blocked by chemicals used for dyes. Manufacture of leather goods and plastic are also producing huge toxic gases.

Dharavi indeed provides a range of services to the better off sections in the city. From scavengers to food providers, from garment to leather good makers, the slum supports and sustains the city in various ways, they point out. There are hundreds of small and medium businesses in the area, many of them admittedly unauthorised and strictly speaking illegal. Many of these illegal units however are said to manufacture goods for global brands. The manufacturers in Dharavi drop brand names like Jimmy Choo and Louis Phillipe and proudly add that cobblers and shoemakers in Dharavi are among the best in the world.

Hundreds of embroiderers can also be seen in Dharavi with their threads and sequins spread out in the open and on dirty staircases. They often end up with international labels like Dior or St Laurent. Dharavi also makes the Idli-dosa batter that is sold across Mumbai in every grocery store and supermarket. It also supplies ingredients to hand-cart stalls or thelawalas who sell paani puri, South Indian snacks and chaat.

The parallel economy run by these unlicensed businesses are unlikely to be rehabilitated and much of the opposition to the redevelopment is indeed emanating from them. The resentment is finding expression in political meetings and the opposition parties are unlikely to give up on the tinder box ahead of the crucial BMC election, expected to be announced soon.

People living in Dharavi are said to speak as many as 18 Indian languages, representing all parts of India; which is why it is so attractive for the Shiv Sena (Uddhav), which is looking for ways to expand its footprint beyond the Marathi-speaking sons of the soil. Giving voice to the grievances emanating from Dharavi provides an opportunity. Aware of the conundrum, Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani had recently called on Uddhav Thackeray as well as his cousin, the MNS chief Raj Thackeray.

But the Shiv Sena (UBT) appears to be going ahead with plans to shut down Mumbai, demanding an investigation into the redevelopment contract handed over to the Adanis. With all the controversies surrounding the group, there is need for an inquiry, says Mumbai Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant. The other major party, NCP, is also on the same page.

Street talk in Mumbai last week veered around the Adani group’s ability to raise funds for the redevelopment, which will require a massive Rs 30,000 crore.

But builders in the city see no such issue. While they agree that it will be a tough and challenging project, the Adani group, points out Sunil Mantri, a city builder, has deep pockets and it should not be a problem for them to engage raise funds and international consultants.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines