| A woman walks past clay pots laid out at a Dharavi slum. (AFP)
Mumbai, Jan. 25: A branch of a kindergarten school that stars send their children to, self-contained economic zones, seven-storied buildings with cross ventilation, huge green parks and shopping areas for Dharavi'
After approving it last week, the Maharashtra government is going full blast on a mammoth plan to develop Asia’s biggest slum into a swank township. The plan will be implemented under the direct supervision of chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, also the chairman of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). “Dharavi…the dream becomes a reality,” says a one-page advertisement in newspapers.
While its critics feel the plan has been unfurled to woo the 600,000-odd residents of Dharavi on election eve, its advocates insist that it will forever change the face of the city, more than 55 per cent of whose 14 million people are slum dwellers. Work will begin soon, promises its developer Mukesh Mehta, who is working as the consultant with the government of Maharashtra.
The project got another boost with the Prime Minister recently announcing a Rs 500-crore grant for Dharavi’s development. “Many developers are in touch. The bidding for the different projects is likely to start in two or three months,” says Mehta, at his site office in Dharavi.
The Rs 6,300-crore plan claims to set up 60,300 free residential and business premises with 43,000 similar premises for purchasing. “Every slum-dwelling family will be provided free housing at the rate of 225 square feet carpet area,” says Mehta.
The new residences will be seven-storied buildings with lifts. There will more than the stipulated three-metre distance between buildings, says Mehta.
But the thrust of the plan will not be on bundling slum dwellers into new buildings, but creating for them a new way of life, claims Mehta. “Housing is a small issue. The plan will aim at income generation for the residents in Dharavi itself.” He says the key to the project will be elevating slum dwellers to the middle-income group through economic development. The area will be divided into nine sectors, each equipped with its own commercial and industrial sections.
“Dharavi is a Rs 3,000 crore economy by itself, home to many industries like leather, pottery and embroidery. These industries will be concentrated into particular zones, which will rehabilitate huge sections of the population economically,” he says.
“Kangaroo Kids, an upscale kindergarten school, has shown a lot of interest in setting up school in Dharavi.”
But activists working in slum rehabilitation are sceptical. “The plan was passed because it has the blessings not only of the government, but all the political parties, as the elections are around the corner,” says environmentalist Devi Goenka.
He says even if the buildings are built, there are other problems. “It is all right to give the slum dwellers a building with a lift. But who pays for the electricity to run it' When bills aren’t paid, the lift stops functioning. When that happens, it becomes a torment for those living in the upper floors to climb up the stairs,” he says. “Most important, what do the slum dwellers’ have to say' Has anyone asked them'”
There will also be a lot of displacement, since only residents staying there since 1995 are eligible for rehabilitation.
The plan, it is feared, will attract a huge number of land sharks, as for every square foot provided for rehabilitating the slums, the builder will be entitled to 1.33 square feet in the free market. At 427 acres of space, one can calculate how much prime property that is.