lessons to learn:
mumbai considers the future of dharavi

I've often said that Metro Manila's problems are not unique. Other megacities around the world face the same challenges. We would do well to learn from their strategies - and see what works.

Here are two articles showcasing the debate between two approaches to dealing with urban slums. The task: improving the life of the 1M people who live in slums of Dharavi in Mumbai:

  1. raze and rebuild
  2. work with the people

Raze and rebuild:

Slums separate Bombay from its future
San Francisco Chronicle
Sudhin Thanawala, Chronicle Foreign Service
Thursday, October 12, 2006

A $2.1 billion dollar plan that "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."

"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 season...

"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...

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 project.

"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."

Work with the people.

Finding a better future for Dharavi
Diana Squires for Monash University

While many groups are calling for India's Dharavi slums to be knocked down to make way for new housing, Monash Asia Institute director Professor Marika Vicziany is looking at alternative ways to help the residents.

Monash Asia Institute director Professor Marika Vicziany believes that although the area is chaotic and in need of an overhaul, the solution is not as simple as destroying buildings.

"What we are looking at is if you have one dollar to spend on the area, what would you do with it? Would you put it towards providing a crèche, new buildings or amenities for waste management?" she says.

"We need to be able to provide a list of priorities to the government as well as organisations in the area, which will identify what needs to be done first, based on what residents need most."

Professor Vicziany says her initial reaction to Dharavi was that the buildings should be knocked down to make way for new housing.

But despite the appearance of the slums, she says, the area is full of hard-working people who are extremely house-proud.

"The living conditions look terrible - they are terrible, but when you go inside the homes, they are spotless," she says.

"These people are not hopeless - they are the most energetic people in the city. The women make and sell textiles and food such as papadums. They are not people picking through rubbish - they are a population crammed into a small area, surrounded by filth because there are no private amenities and no roads providing vehicle access to the area."

Image credit: Aerial of Dharavi by Binu Alex from the 4th World Social Forum, World Council of Churches.


Anonymous said...

Remodeling Dharavi the American way!

Dharavi is not “outside” Mumbai. It is in the heart of it, just across the Bandra- Karla Complex (BKC-a fast developing commercial center that has left behind Nariman Point, the current down town of Mumbai) close to the Mumbai domestic and International airports.

Dharavi is not a “shantytown”, it is a unique vibrant, thriving cottage industry complex, the only one of its kind in the world where all the raw materials produced and processes (lining cloth, sewing needles & thread,colours & dyes, pigments, skining, tanning, cutting & tailoring) of the final product (leather bags,fancy lady's purses) are carried out at the same location and the value added is very high! Families have been engaged in this industry for generations. The very nature of the process of making fine leather goods requires large tracts of open land for the activity. This is infact the kind of self sufficient,self sustaining 'village' community that the Father of the Nation -Mahatma Gandhi- dreamt of and wrote about in his books on the path India should take for its development. Those claiming to be the heirs to his philosophy should seriously reconsider the Proposal by Mukesh Mehta.

Mukesh Mehta is NOT an Indian Architect and Developer. He is an American businessman cashing in on the false and adverse publicity given to Dharavi as a 'slum' by western media; by proposing to raze the existing home-cum workplaces of the poor artisans and cramming them in 225 sq. ft cubbyhole high rise 20 storey buildings to get the land so vacated for commercial exploitation by painting colourful computer generated pictures of beautiful building towers set amidst greenary and playfields!

Let us look at the numbers. The entire land of 535 acres will be available free to the developer. Normally, in the suburbs of Mumbai, Floor Space Index (FSI) permissible is 1.00. However, this being treated as a Slum Redevelopment Scheme, the FSI permissible would be 4.5 (Development Control Regulations-DCR- for Mumbai,1991). It means that, in this land of 535 acres, after deducting statutory open space of 15%, total floor area that could be built will be 4.5 times the balance land (aprox.455 acres) ie. 2047.50 acres ! For rehousing 100,000 families in 225 sq.ft. Carpet area (aprox. 330 sq.ft.built up area) apartments, total floor area required would be around 757.50 acres. This would leave a balance of 1290 acres for 'free sale' by the Developer!

Construction of 100,000 apartments for the existing residents at a carpet area of 225 sq.ft. each will not cost more than Rs.250,000 per apartment (based on cost of resettlement in the World Bank aided MUTP II project recently completed).The total cost of rehousing will therefore be Rs. 2500 million or US $ 56.8 million (current exchange rate of IRs.44=1US $).

Total land (inclusive of roads, open spaces & amenities) required for such 100,000 apartments in 20 storey buildings at the standards permitted by the Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) will be about 126.50 acres leaving the balance of 408.50 acres to be used by the Developer for construction of “Free Sale” apartments. At the current price (based on recent sale of land by Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority-MMRDA) of around Rs.28000 per sq. mt. of FSI (Floor Space Index) the FSI available for sale on the balance land (1290 acres) would fetch approx.Rs.14448 million, or US $ 328.36 m. Deducting the cost of 100,000 flats (US $ 56.80m.) there would be a clear profit of Rs. 11948 million or US $ 271.56 m., a return of 478% on the investment!!

What is 'unique' about this plan is its machiavellien attempt to deprive over 100,000 families of their traditional livelyhood and home-cum work places so that the land so conveniently located across the BKC can 'host' commercial urban development that can ride piggy back on the infrastructure already created in BKC at the cost of the public exchequer and benefit the developers.

When, in the name of redevelopment, a businessman is getting ready to “Raze” Dharavi where the residents have lived for over 50 years; where are the American “Brains” of the Bill Clinton promoted Foundation who recently held a conference in USA to vociferously propagate tenure rights to the slum dwellers of the third world for the land they occupy so that they can register their ownership documents, get access to institutional finance, redevelop their area to increase the wealth of the city?

Would it not be simpler and just, to give land tenure to the existing residents of Dharavi so that they themselves can redevelop the area and upgrade its physical environment through self help efforts by registering ownership to their piece of land and availing institutional finance? YES, but then how can the developers reap a rich harvest of millions of dollars for their personal benefit?

The so called redevelopment of Dharavi therefore, is the biggest and cruelest perfidy perpetrated on the poor of Mumbai in the name of improving the urban infrastructure and converting Mumbai into Shanghai or whichever city is fancied as a “Model” at the time of such fraud!

Prakash M Apte

Citizen of the World said...

Indeed, there lies the bigger problem. It\'s a toss between razing down and entire neighborhood of slums or helping people help themselves.

How many times have we witnessed this done in Manila before? How many of the original dwellers along the train tracks of Quirino really benefitted from FVR\'s Home Along the Riles Housing Project? The project is currently rotting as we speak.

In Taguig, Erap did the same thing and the whole complex looks like a slum - this time, on a higher plane for all the world to see.

What exactly is the idea behind razing down slums? Is it saving face (this being an Asian concept) or is it real political will to make things better?

I suppose people will support such moves if they see how it benefits them.

Urbano dela Cruz said...


Thank you for that long, enlightening comment. Just to clarify, I side neither with Mr. Mehta nor do I completely agree with simple land turnovers. And here I address also Citizen's points:

Informal dwellers are valid citizens of the city -they thrive because the do contribute to and benefit from the local economy. Razing and relocation is absolutely the worst thing that we can do. That being said, the vast landholdings that are occupied by informal settlers -particularly in areas where the surrounding land have increased in value -represent untapped opportunities revenue opportunities for city and national governments. As much as the current residents would benefit from a simple title turnover -the larger populace (i.e. -all the poor in the land) could benefit from extracted value (from property taxes or real estate deals) IF (and this is the big if) the proceeds are specifically directed towards projects that would benefit more people.

if done correctly, the redevelopment could provide better housing -in mixed income communities -to all the existing informal dwellers -as well as amenities (open spaces) and services (sewer, water systems) to the rest of the city.

There is so much more to discuss but i'll cut the comment here.


Anonymous said...

India's elite socialists will never allow the modernization of Dharavi.

Dharavi is indeed a huge shantytown. Anyone who says otherwise should go and live there.

The project to upgrade Dharavi is a bold one. The easiest way to stop such a project is to create doubts in the mind of the people by promoting lies as facts. First try to get world attention that "human rights of poor people are beig violated". Then say that this is a project where the rich will take away the land and the poor will suffer. A lot of socialists are also environmentalists nowadays (it is the in thing in the party circuit). So they will brand the project as environment unfriendly. Or in the tradition of India's elite socialst jingoism call all this a conspiracy theory of western imperialism. Plant news and interviews in the media. And lo behold the project will not take off ground.

For sixty years this set of elite socialists have suppressed the poor with their strange policies that supposedly help the poor. The result is that Mumbai has been turned into Slumbai.

India's elitist socialism is what produced Dharavi. Mahatma Gandhi would have been ashamed of seeing the condition of people living in Dharavi. Dharavi is not the concept of village that he promoted. But socialists love quoting his name to bolster their case.

Most of India's star socialists and environmental activists are fake. They have no plans for developing the nation. They only know how to talk a lot, jack up frequent flier miles, move around the wine circuit and when time comes, go on protest marches or blockades with TV cameras in tow.

These people have no shame in making money themselves but they do a lot of posturing about corporate greed.

Mukesh Mehta's plans are great. Building a 100,000 apartments (750 acres of floor space) for the poor is no joke. To pay for the cost of the 100,000 apartments about 50,000 high income apartments will be built (1290 acres). What's so wrong in that? Of course the companies will make some money. There are no free lunches. But the amount of work generated for construction will boost Mumbai's economy. Working classs peple will get construction related jobs. It is a win win situation. Except

Let the socialist elite who are complaining about the Dharavi redevelopment project come up with a white paper plan of their own. Much of their published plans are plain laughbale and economically non viable (that is the reason Dharavi has not improved yet).

However in the end the socialist elite will probably win and Dharavi will remain a cesspool of misery filled living conditions. That will ensue that the leather designer chappals (shoes) for the matching designer sarees can still keep coming from Dharavi at a cheap price. The Dharavi maids that work at the socialists' homes will keep working as maids.

Status quo will be maintained. For sixty long years that's what Indian style elite socialism has done to India. Keep the staus quo and oppose any development.


Prakash M Apte said...

I am Prakash M Apte, an Architect-Town Planner by education, a Low cost Housing Expert by training and an Urban Development Consultant by Profession working in India for the last 46 years.
Since "Soham" has "trashd" my commnts on Dharavi plan will he be bold enough to divulge his identity?
Prakash M Apte

Prakash M Apte said...

Who are you SOHAM?

Information Junkie said...

Dharavi has a annual turnover of more than $650 Millions. As Mumbai infrastructure improves and as the education system becomes better at training and educating instead of determining the social hierarchy, Dharavi will provide a huge upside to the country.

This place has heart.

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