[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Slums Separate Bombay from its Future
jancius at ohio.edu
Mon Oct 16 21:19:55 EDT 2006
Slums separate Bombay from its future
Struggle over plans for redevelopment slows city's progress
Sudhin Thanawala, Chronicle Foreign Service
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Many Indian authorities here proudly claim this seaside metropolis -- the
nation's largest -- as an Asian financial hub on par with Shanghai and
But critics quickly point out that India -- touted as an international
powerhouse in the 21st century along with China -- will never become an
economic success story until it eradicates its many urban slums. More than
40 million people, or 14 percent of the nonrural population, live in
shantytowns, according to the 2001 Indian census.
India, which has 1.1 billion people, is expected to expand its urban
population to 575 million by 2030 from 285 million today, making an increase
in slums one of the nation's most pressing problems. Urban blight is most
evident in Bombay, more than half of whose 16.4 million inhabitants reside
in shantytowns. Also known as Mumbai, Bombay is often called "Slumbai."
"With so many people living in slums, we can't take baby steps anymore.
Unless we take dramatic leaps, we will not be able to make a difference,"
said Bombay architect Mukesh Mehta.
Mehta, a former New York real estate developer, has created a seven-year
plan to turn Bombay's Dharavi neighborhood -- Asia's largest slum -- into a
middle-class area that some experts say could become a model for slum
redevelopment in other Indian cities. This former fishing village of about
600,000 residents is a bustling maze of ramshackle homes of corrugated iron
and cement, tiny shops and open sewers prone to flooding during the monsoon
Just last month, state officials began seeking corporate partners for
Mehta's $2.1 billion plan, which would raze neighborhood homes and shops. In
its place would rise a new town complete with modern apartment buildings,
parks, schools, markets, clinics, industrial parks, and even a cricket
museum and an arts center.
"What is unique about this plan is its attempt to provide new, on-site
housing for such a large number of families," said Vinit Mukhija, assistant
professor of urban planning at UCLA.
Iqbal Chahal, the state official overseeing the massive project, said
Dharavi's 535-acre marshland will be transformed mainly by private
developers. In exchange for land, they will be required to build
225-square-foot apartments for families. Profits will come later by selling
additional apartments at market rates. Until the new homes are complete,
slum dwellers will live in free temporary housing.
"I can assure you that seven years from now, Dharavi will be one of the best
places to live in Bombay," Chahal said.
But critics call the plan simplistic and suspect its real aim is to
appropriate land that has become extremely valuable given the slum's
proximity to Bombay's domestic and international airports and a new,
emerging business district.
Social activists also cite the lack of involvement of slum dwellers in the
"Development will be successful if you have a bottom-up approach," said
Arputham Jockin, head of the National Slum Dwellers Federation, a community
organization that has helped Dharavi's residents build apartments in the
past. "But in this project, everything is imposed from the top."
To be sure, Dharavi residents who oppose the plan could stop the project,
The slum is home to thousands of cottage industries, ranging from
embroidered skirts and snack foods to belt buckles and pottery items. The
slum generates between $330 million and $670 million annually, according to
the Hindu, a Bombay daily. Many locals worry how their businesses will fare
under the proposed plan.
But Mehta said slum entrepreneurs will be given new jobs at gem, jewelry,
leather and ceramics factories built at five proposed 7-acre industrial
On a recent morning, about 60 potters met under a tarp near the only paved
road running through the slum. With smoke billowing from nearby kilns, they
agreed to form a committee to stop the project. Unlike the project's
proposed small apartments, their homes are expansive, with ample space for
"Our forefathers developed Dharavi when it was a jungle with no drinking
water, no electricity, no place to live," said potter Ranchhod Tank, 40. "We
know what we want. We can do it (build homes) ourselves" through their own
"They say they will give us apartments to live in," added Abdul Ansari, 70,
who makes belt buckles and other metal items and has lived in Dharavi for
more than 30 years. "But if we can't work, how can we afford to live here?"
Ansari said he saw similar development projects in the 1980s and 1990s when
thousands languished in a transit camp for years without seeing new homes
promised by government officials.
"How can we trust anyone now?" Ansari said. "This plan looks good on paper,
but we don't have faith it will become reality."
More information about the URBANTH-L