Urban Poverty in India: Dharavi, Mumbai

Dharavi in Mumbai has long been India’s and Asia’s largest slum. And people have used that as trivia to awe audiences in stupid conversations. However in the last year Dharavi was the main feature of two international and reputed publications…the National Geographic and Economist.

Image Courtesy Economist.

This month the Economic Times writes about Urban Poverty in India and focuses on Dharavi

For thousands of men like these, Dharavi is a wonderful opportunity. But for millions of Mumbaikers, it represents a cost. Their city, South Asia’s biggest, is choking. Its infrastructure is a crumbling disaster. And yet over the next decade, the UN says the population of Mumbai will almost double, making it the world’s second-biggest city after Tokyo. Massive urban redevelopment is required—starting with Dharavi, at the city’s heart. By one estimate, the slum’s land alone represents $10 billion in dead capital.

For a decade, the state government has tried coaxing the slum-dwellers to let it bulldoze their hutments and build high-rise apartments instead. Each dispossessed family is entitled to a flat of 225 square feet. After 30 years, they will be allowed to sell it. But only a few have accepted this offer. So now the government is trying to enforce it. In August it put the bulldozing and redevelopment of Dharavi, in six parcels, out to tender. The work was due to begin this year. But it has been stalled by bad press nationally and local protests, organised by Mr Korde.

And the National Geographic in May 2007 writes about Dharavi: Mumbai’s Shadow City.

Yet Dharavi remains unique among slums. A neighborhood smack in the heart of Mumbai, it retains the emotional and historical pull of a subcontinental Harlem—a square-mile (three square kilometers) center of all things, geographically, psychologically, spiritually. Its location has also made it hot real estate in Mumbai, a city that epitomizes India’s hopes of becoming an economic rival to China. Indeed, on a planet where half of humanity will soon live in cities, the forces at work in Dharavi serve as a window not only on the future of India’s burgeoning cities, but on urban space everywhere.

As a student of architecture back in 1993 I did a case study on urban low-cost housing and Dharavi. Walking around Dharavi then, it was interesting to see the chaos and the “joie de vivre” that only Mumbai can explore. One of these days I am going to go back and check out the area. However what really annoys me in conversations with fellow bombayites is the fact that they think its fashionable to “diss” Dharavi and wish for its instant disappearance. Dharavi is as much an integral cog in the wheel that keeps Mumbai rolling as in Dalal street. So if you find yourself dismissing Dharavi, watch out.

Too many people have written too many tomes about the good and the bad of Bombay. To all those who love Bombay and are like me lifetime members of the Bombayite club, I say hooray !! And to those who find every single fault in Bombay, but still cant get away from it, I say shut up, suck up and start enjoying life. And to the doomsayers, I say, the next train leaves for Bihar from VT or Kurla Terminus. Take your pick and I will arrange for a ticket, free of cost !!

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