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A group of residents from Dharavi has written to the state government, seeking clarification on the redevelopment plan in India’s largest slums amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
The residents’ group, People’s Responsible Organisation of United Dharavi (Proud) has demanded that their apartments be constructed taking into consideration the social distancing norms. Dharavi has reported more than 2,600 cases of Covid-19 since April.
The residents have also sought a clarification on the percentage of buildable land being offered for the rehabilitation of the locals, who are majorly slum-dwellers.
When asked on the issue, state housing minister Jitendra Awhad said, “We are of the opinion that now is the best time to go ahead with the redevelopment but all the concerns of all stakeholders will be looked into before the revamp. We are, however, yet to decide if the contract will be given to the same company which won the bid earlier or to go for re-bidding. We are taking a legal opinion on it and will take a decision soon.”
Residents have claimed that social distancing and issues of density have become even more important after the outbreak of Covid-19 and have insisted that the slum dwellers be made aware of the plans being drafted by the state government.
Hariram Dilliwala, general secretary of Proud, said, “We are still struggling to overcome the Covid-19 outbreak and are also trying to figure out how we can ensure better social distancing if something like this happens again at Dharavi. Hence, the government has to ensure that we are not thrown into vertical slums in the name of redevelopment. There should not be a scenario wherein we have 14-15 apartments on one floor, as social distancing is an important factor now.”
Proud has sought clarity on the usage of common spaces.
“We have written to the state government and sought clarity on what is the internal layout of our approved apartments is in relation to the number of apartments on each floor and the number of people who will use the building’s common spaces, to ensure social distancing norms. Also, we need clarity on how tall the buildings will be and the number of residents who will use common lifts etc. The government should give us all such details,” said Dilliwala, a resident of Dharavi from the past 40 years.
Another resident, Radhakrishnan Perumal, said that the locals have appointed an architect to represent their concerns.
“We do not mind the company the government appoints for our redevelopment, but we want to see what our future locality will look like. We have appointed an architect, who will represent us. We cannot afford the architect’s fees and hence the services by him will be taken from the potential developer,” said Perumal.
According to Ameer Chand, the architect appointed by Proud, focus should be on ensuring that Dharavi does not become a “claustrophobic vertical slum”.
“Enforcing redevelopment on the basis of improper plans is of no use. The new normal [social distancing norms] needs a new approach. Careful and detailed planning will ensure that the current horizontal density or congestion within the slum clusters of Dharavi is not getting translated into a claustrophobic vertical slum,” he said, adding that state needs to transparently give out the rehabilitation details of the project.
“The government must specify the percentage of land they will allocate for the residents of Dharavi. It is also extremely unfair to not let the residents see their to-be-redeveloped house plans beforehand. Mere carpet areas should not be the benchmark for deciding liveability,” said Chand.
Successive governments have been planning the redevelopment of 535-acre land in Dharavi since the 1980’s, but nothing has been materialised so far. In 2018, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) was set up to implement the ₹22,000-crore Dharavi Redevelopment Project, which aims to transform India’s largest slum pocket, located on prime land in the heart of Mumbai, into a plush township by offering 350 square feet homes to slum dwellers post redevelopment. The same year in November, bids were floated and won by Sec Link Technology Corporation (STC), backed by the royal family of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
However, the firm was not given the project after an alleged ‘technical glitch’ occurred, when the Devendra Fadnavis-government acquired 45-acre railway land adjacent to the area. The railway land was not mentioned in the original tender and the government was of the opinion that the tender to the UAE firm should be cancelled and the bids be re-floated. So far, no call has been taken on the redevelopment project, even though STC has threatened to move the high court against the government if the project is taken away from them.