Will Dharavi redevelopment take off this time around?
In a city like Mumbai that teems with high-rises, Dharavi is an exception. Ahorizontal sprawl spread across 300 hectare, it’s a case study on survival driven by free enterprise, with residents engaged in manufacturing leather goods, pottery, clothes and even medicines. Needless to say, much of this is legally illegitimate! Back in the 1980s when socialist fervour in India was at a high, Dharaviserved as a valiant example of how poor migrants akin to ‘mortals of a lesser god’ had battled all the oddsto stay afloat. In contemporary times, many want to redraft the narrative as celebrating poverty is no longer in vogue. For a long time, many NGOs, urban plannersand policymakers have come together to highlight the problems in Dharavi. Globally, too, philanthropists have been pouring in money to usher in a change. But still there have been deadlocks to overcome.Experts believe much of it also has to do with the mindset of the tenants. “In any SRA [Slum Rehabilitation Authority] project involving relocation and rehabilitation, there are a number of unseen challenges,” says Gulam Zia, Executive Director, Knight Frank. “In a rehabilitation project undertaken by Tata Housing in Latur, the tenants were reluctant to move into homes made for them. The homes were fully constructed and one could just walk in. Still, people whose homes were destroyed by a massive earthquake were reluctant to occupy the ready-to-move-in homes.” Though this may seem bizarre, there is a similar example in the city of Mumbai itself. As part of the Mumbai Airport Slum Rehabilitation Project, 17,000 houses were constructed by private developer HDIL in exchange for transfer of development rights (TDR) to accommodate the eligible project-affected of the 85,000 families settled on 276 acre of the Mumbai airport. People did not move in and now talks are on to utilise a few of these to accommodate slum dwellers impacted by the 33.5-km Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro. Apart from tenants unwilling to occupy rehabilitated homes, a number ofbuilders found themselves in an economically non-viable mode after the SRA projects they were involved in did not take off as envisaged, leading to their decline. Hence, even though this time around a reputed builder like Adani Developers has bagged the project, cynicism refuses to die down. Further, the scale of the project itself is a challenge. Getting consensus for the rehabilitated project from different tenants and individuals involved in diverse businesses is another challenge. “According to the report from SRA, which is the nodal body conducting the bid process of Dharavi’sredevelopment, Adani Developers has won the bid,” says Subhankar Mitra, Managing Director, Advisory Services, Colliers India.“The scrutiny of the technical competency of such a project will be a test of sorts. However, this time around,a number ofauthorities, including the Railway Board, chipping in with their land bank is a positive sign.” Much of this development is also driven by the fact that the face of real estate in Mumbai has changed over the years and Dharavi occupies a prime location within the city. Also, many believe the right amount of political will is in place now to bring the redevelopment agenda to fruition. The pandemic, too,was perhaps a lesson of sorts that redevelopment of Dharavi is essential; more so as over 9,000 COVID-19 cases were reported and over 100 lives lost. The Dharavi Rehabilitation Plan has been an ongoing process and attempts have been made since 2008 to get the house in order. The project entails the relocation of 68,000 individuals, including those who live in slums and those who own businesses, at a cost of Rs 23,000 crore. To take this project off the ground, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) with Adani Developers as the primary partner is in the process of being formed. The state government will own 20 per cent of the SPV while Adani would own 80 per cent of it.While 70 per cent of the land will be utilised for rehabilitation, 30 per cent will be made available to the open market. This will allow the developer to recover construction costs and accrue profits. The tentative timeline for completing the rehabilitation stands at seven years, whereas the entire project is to be completed in 17 years. The rehabilitation of Dharavi is sure to be a win-win for a city that doesn’t sleep. People cramped in 100-150 sq ft homes will get the chance to live better in 405 sq ft. Having said that, before construction begins, it is desirable to share the final plan of the houses with all existing stakeholders to ensure there is a proper consensus and the project continues uninterrupted. Once redeveloped, Dharavi has the potential to become a vibrant business district as well – transforming the pessimist tagline ‘Asia’s biggest slum’to the optimistic ‘Asia’s biggest opportunity’.