Mumbai Vs Slumbai

Dharavi is one of the largest slums in the world. It used to be the largest slum in Mumbai at one time, but as of 2011, there are four slums in Mumbai larger than Dharavi.

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Image Courtesy: Johnny Miller

I have been born in Mumbai; I have seen this city changing its structure and also seen slums growing and getting reformed. Half of Mumbai is surrounded by Slumbai. This city is divided into two parts with 65 Lakh slum dwellers in the economic capital. There are many movies and documentaries illustrating the truth of the city called Mumbai. Slumdog Millionaire, the movie gave new charm to the slums of Mumbai. Overnight foreign tourists started flooding the city to visit slums. Dharavi is a slum and administrative ward, over parts of Sion, Bandra, Kurla, and Kalina suburbs of Mumbai, India. It is sandwiched between Mahim in the west and Sion in the east and spreads over an area of 175 hectares, or 0.67 square miles (1.7 km). In 1986, the population was estimated at 530,225, but modern Dharavi has a population of between 600,000 and over 1 million people. Dharavi is one of the largest slums in the world. It used to be the largest slum in Mumbai at one time, but as of 2011, there are four slums in Mumbai larger than Dharavi.

There have been many plans since 1997 to redevelop Dharavi like the former slums of Hong Kong such as Tai Hang. In 2004, the cost of redevelopment was estimated to be 5,000 crores. Companies from around the world have bid to redevelop Dharavi, including Lehman Brothers, Dubai’s Limitless, and Singapore’s Capitaland Ltd. In 2010, it is estimated to cost 15,000 crores to redevelop. The latest urban redevelopment plan proposed for the Dharavi area, the plan involves the construction of 30,000,000 square feet (2,800,000 m) of housing, schools, parks, and roads to serve the 57,000 families residing in the area, along with 40,000,000 square feet (3,700,000 m) of residential and commercial space for sale. There has been significant local opposition to the plans, largely because existing residents are due to receive only 225 square feet (20.9 m) of land each. Furthermore, only those families who lived in the area before 2000 are slated for resettlement. But this slum Dharavi has severe problems with public health, due to the scarcity of toilet facilities, due in turn to the fact that most housing and 90% of the commercial units in Dharavi are illegal. As of November 2006, there was only one toilet per 1,440 residents in Dharavi. Mahim Creek, a local river, is widely used by local residents for urination and defecation, leading to the spread of contagious diseases. The area also suffers from problems with inadequate drinking water supply.

In most large cities, the floor space index (FSI) varies from 5 to 15 in the Central Business District (CBD) to about 0.5, or below, in the suburbs. In Mumbai the permitted FSI is uniform and in 1991 was fixed at 1.33. The regulations that restrict the FSI greatly reduce the floor space available for residence and businesses. Inexpensive Mumbai, Dharavi provides a cheap alternative where rents were as low as US$4 per month in 2006. Dharavi exports goods around the world. The total turnover is estimated to be between US$500 million and over USD 650 million per year. Dharavi is situated between Mumbai’s two main suburban railway lines, the Western and Central Railways. To its west are Mahim and Bandra, and to the north lies the Mithi River, which empties into the Arabian Sea through the Mahim Creek. To its south and east are Sion and Matunga. Both its location and poor drainage systems make Dharavi particularly vulnerable to floods during the wet season. The failure of the system in providing due care is not surprising. Is not it the way our system functions? The upper authorities consume their share, the middlemen consume theirs, and if the resource reaches the hands of the poor the bigger fishes there eat away the share of the smaller ones. So first the authorities will have to acknowledge that slum dwellers are there and their population increases at a rate better than the common people population so swift action is required to solve their problems. They must return something to the city that makes them what they are today. The root causes of this issue are three-fold. First is the unmitigated flow of population to this premier city, second is the lack of affordable housing for the poor and the third and the most important reason why the SRA could not succeed is that the Maharashtra politics is dominated by builders lobby. In all the major cities of Maharashtra, builders have become politicians and vice versa and this is true across all political parties. However, one may not misconstrue that all slum-dwellers are below-poverty line people. In fact, many of them are quite industrious and economically well off. It is just that land is simply not available in Mumbai and the politician-builder community has grabbed whatever was available. The SRA never was or is the solution. What is needed is the greater spread of the city with a faster and efficient transport system, so that the population can shift and commute faster.

Slum development is an important issue. But what is being sought to be done is on the platter of slum development, we give a lot of undue benefit to builders and developers and instead of rehabilitating the slum dwellers, there is a lot of population migration in the area concerned. A sensitive subject which is sought to be exploited and fought on the shoulders of the poor slum dwellers. Free houses for the poor are okay on paper but what is the reality? If slum dwellers are accommodated in the vicinity of high rise buildings, most of them are likely to sell their dwellings and move to another slum. This is because basically most of them are so poor that they cannot afford to pay the high monthly maintenance expenses of their new dwellings. Secondly, it is unwise to think of any housing plan for the poor without planning for its funding. A faulty funding plan would invariably jeopardize any housing scheme for the poor that appears on the face of it to be viable: Dharavi is a classic example of faulty funding.

We are too much fascinated with this image of ours after ‘Slumdog millionaire’ got Oscar. Soon we will be one step ahead with an image ‘India is a land of plunderers’ with corruption malady rampant in every other field. It’s really sad to see the whole country focusing on the national drama of ‘Jan Lokpal’ but being apathetic to the real situations. ‘Jan Lokpal is not a magical wand which will make corruption disappear in a blink of eyes. Corruption is a plague and we need to handle each patient with similar attention and care. It set up the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) in 1995 with an emphasis on using the slum lands as a resource. The idea was to rope in private developers and encourage them to redevelop areas by permitting more dwelling units than what the building rules allowed. The excess units were to be sold and the money so mobilised was meant to subsidise reconstruction of slum tenements. On the face of it, this approach appeared well-meaning. However, on the ground, it was blatantly misused, denying the needy the benefit of owning a house even as small as 270 sq. ft.

Despite many complaints, the SRA did not carry out comprehensive surveys of slums nor prepare a well-verified list of eligible beneficiaries. Proper photo identification was not fully issued to the allottees, allowing many illegible users to benefit. The SRA, as a recent CAG report reveals, adopted improper practices that affected the performance of projects: proper evaluation of builders was not undertaken; dues were not recovered; projects were not properly monitored, resulting in poor construction and delay. The state of the flagship project — the Dharavi Redevelopment Project — is no better. Even eight years after sanctioning and spending about Rs.50 crore in planning, not even one of the five sectors earmarked for redevelopment has taken off. As a result, Mumbai has so far rehabilitated only about 15 percent of the targeted four million slum dwellers, even as the number of people living in slums has crossed 6.5 million. The limitations of the State machinery to deliver slum tenements may justify joint ventures with private builders. But what is required is total transparency in decision-making, the complete disclosure of project details, clear enunciation of specifications and deliverables, undiluted monitoring, and periodic public consultation. Above all, slum rehabilitation has to take a people-first approach and must benefit only the deserving. The problem directly relates to public infrastructure and the ability to work and earn money. The slum dwellers even if rehabilitated into a high-rise are going to shift to another slum area by selling off the allotted house. This is because of their inability to sustain an income. Help deal with their social grievances, increase public and private spending on infrastructure, and get them permanent sustainable jobs they will find a house for themselves.