Highrise in loose mud

Dharavi resettlement creates a windfall for builders. Cost: local entrepreneurship

Published: Wednesday 15 March 2006

-- early Tamil Muslim tannery owners, settling on a piece of land by the Mahim river in Mumbai, called it Dharavi. It is Tamil for loose mud. Early January this year, at the Pravasi Diwas at Hyderabad, non-resident Indian businessmen were upbeat over the opportunity in this loose mud. The refashioning of Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, has been on the cards for a while. But the plan has gathered sudden momentum in the past few months. It is a noble plan: resettling 76,000 families (about 600,000 people) from their present unhygienic, dingy surroundings to 'modern' high-rise apartments, all with sanitation, water and recreational facilities.

With a planned outlay of Rs 5,600 crore, this project has generated a lot of noise. A report on Dharavi to the prime minister's office in 2003-04 pointed out, emphatically, that Dharavi is primarily an industrial area. More than 80 per cent of Dharavi's population is employed inside Dharavi, in tanneries, manufacturing units for leather goods, jewellery, handicrafts, papad, and so on. With a large export component, Dharavi does business worth Rs 4,700 crore every year. This is true for almost all slums in India, where every 'unauthorised' slum is a centre for specialised productions, with organised financing systems and absolutely authorised mainstream forward chains. City fathers ignore this and take slums only as residential area for poor people. This disconnect ensures that all slum resettlement programmes fail. Each resettlement programme symbolises violence and loss of livelihood. The Slum Rehabilitation Authority in Mumbai agrees that almost 25 per cent of rehabilitated families sell the free housing and move out of new vertical slums.

The Dharavi rehab plan is termed progressive -- space is earmarked for industries also. But only 'non-polluting' industries will be legalised. The large labour force of tanneries will be rendered unemployed. While people of Dharavi have sleepless nights, builders are planning. The authority has taken care of all facilities. With 100 per cent foreign direct investment allowed in housing, the smell of global tenders has builders salivating from Dubai to California. After the horizontally spread Dharavi's people are packed into vertical buildings, a large amount of land will be freed. But that isn't all. Floor space index, which directly determines profit, has been specially raised for Dharavi. It has gone up to four already. Builders can make extra floors and sell them at a premium. Slum development has never been better business.

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