[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Slums Separate Bombay from its Future

Angela Jancius 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, 
observers say.
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 
housing association.
"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." 

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