Soon : A hot, upscale residency called Dharavi


Indian Express, MUMBAI, AUGUST 24, 2003


Asia’s biggest slum to become an urban sprawl with housing complexes, supermarkets

 : The biggest slum of Asia is getting a makeover.

Stroll along the 90 Feet Road here and in an instant, the documentaries made on this slum seem as vintage as the lone, rusting hand-pump in a corner.

Third-generation Dharaviites - concretised roads below their feet and wheels, cellphones in their hands - are poised to move their slum up the social ladder.

The latest offering in Mumbai’s urban sprawl includes housing complexes, supermarkets, new-age hospitals, a state-of-the art leather institute, fashion and ceramic institutes and a four-acre sports complex.

The price tag ? Rs 5,600-crore. It’s a made-to-order slum rehabilitation project.

There’s more. The 225-sq ft homes come at an affordable price tag of anything between Rs 1,800 per sq ft to Rs 2,100 per sq ft. Compare that to pads in neighbouring Matunga and Sion which could cost a good deal more.

Designed by architect Mukesh Mehta after a five-year study, this rehab scheme stands out because of its tag as a holistic project. Conventionally, Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) schemes simply replace shanties with flats. This project aspires to develop the entire area (read wider roads, adequate open spaces, hospitals, supermarkets...)

What every shanty-owner gets, thus, is a 225 sq ft flat for free, with middle-class lifestyle attached.

‘‘With its bustling economy generating Rs 3,000 crore a year, over 50 per cent of Dharaviites fall in the middle-income bracket with an annual income anywhere between Rs 75,000 to Rs 5 lakh. So why should they settle for vertical slums ?’’ asks Mehta.

Residents agree. ‘‘Till recently, about 1,000 families migrated annually to middle-class localities in the northern suburbs. Not any more. Flats with all the trappings of an upwardly mobile lifestyle are available here itself,’’ says S A Sunder, a Dharaviite for 25 years and long-time social worker.

Every morning, as he treks half a kilometre to complete his morning ablutions, Syed Yakkubhai (52) remembers a dream.

It’s a dream that he and 60 other families of Islampura colony in Dharavi have been chasing for eight years now.

From their 250-sq ft shanties which open into 4-feet wide lanes, Yakubbhai and others have dreamt of life in a ‘‘self-contained’’ flat.

The progress so far : Islampura slum has become Islampura Co-operative housing society on paper. ‘‘Some more paperwork and then our shanties will be demolished for a new building under architect Mukesh Mehta’s project,’’ says Yakubbhai. He doesn’t know it yet, but if Islampura gets its fairy-tale ending, a Domino effect will kick off, changing Dharavi’s face irreversibly.

Chief of the SRA Ujjwal Uke says the project has been approved in principle. ‘‘It now needs only cabinet approval.’’

Housing Secretary Suresh Joshi says the project will be placed before the cabinet committee in about 15-20 days. Once sanctioned, bids from developers will be invited.

The blueprint divides the 174 hectare slum into 12 sectors, each will house three to four colonies. Seven-storey buildings will rehabilitate slum dwellers.

Residents are not even worried about being stuck in transit camps forever, given the frenetic pace of construction activity in Sector 5 of Dharavi, where seven-storey residential structures are already taking shape under other SRA schemes.

‘‘It’s called Tunnel Form Shuttering, a technology imported from Holland. In 12 hours, concrete moulds of walls and ceiling are created and then put in place by a crane. Concrete mixture is then poured inside these moulds. These forms are computer-heated and on cooling, the strength the wall achieves is equivalentto 20 days of concretising and curing,’’ says the architect.

But there are others like Nanji Devadia (37), a potter, for whom the project sounds a death knell.

‘‘How can we take our trade to buildings ? We need vast open plots for kilns and space to dry the pots,’’ he says.