Fear as India’s Slumdog Millionaire slum faces wrecking ball

Mumbai, India – Dharavi, the notorious slum depicted within the 2008 Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire, is ready for an costly makeover.

In November final yr, Adani Realty, led by billionaire Gautam Adani, Asia’s richest man with an estimated value of greater than $130bn, received a bid to redevelop the Mumbai shantytown, whose blue tarpaulin-lined huts and shanties are the primary glimpse of India that many worldwide guests get when arriving by aircraft.

On the floor, the undertaking seems to be a win-win scenario. While households that presently dwell in dilapidated tenements will get to move into houses in fashionable buildings, Adani Realty will get to develop an actual property gold mine within the coronary heart of Mumbai.

Once the prevailing residents are resettled, Adani Realty, which bid somewhat greater than $612m to clinch the redevelopment undertaking, will have the ability to develop the freed-up land as residential and industrial actual property and promote it at market charges. The whole undertaking is estimated to be value as much as $2.4bn.

Many Mumbai residents hope {that a} new inflow of actual property will assist stabilise the housing market in a metropolis the place home possession and even rental lodging have gotten prohibitively costly. But not everybody in Dharavi is completely happy concerning the plans.

“I worry about the impact on our livelihood,” Sharifa Hussain, a 51-year-old potter in Kumbhar Wada, an space of Dharavi identified for its earthenware companies, advised Al Jazeera.

Hussain, whose household migrated from the western state of Gujarat greater than 70 years in the past, fears that the brand new houses is not going to be adequate for her household’s wants.

“Our family owns three homes, a small warehouse where we store finished products, and this workshop,” Hussain stated, whereas dying diyas, conventional earthen lamps utilized by Hindus throughout prayers.

Sharifa Hussain makes conventional earthen lamps in Mumbai’s Dharavi shantytown [Deborah Grey/Al Jazeera]

Hussain’s issues stem from the survey carried out to find out the eligibility of households for brand spanking new houses. When the survey was carried out 14 years in the past, all her sons lived together with her. But despite the fact that two of her sons have gotten married and moved out since then, they’re thought-about a part of one eligible household.

“We will get only one 300-350sq ft [27 to 32sq metres] home. We should be given a home for each of my three sons. We should also get adequate space on the ground level to dry and store our earthenware,” Hussain stated.

The economics of the household enterprise should not very encouraging.

“We spend about 5,000 rupees ($60) on raw materials each month, and our total monthly income from the sale of pottery to wholesale buyers is about 40,000 rupees ($485). But that barely helps us make ends meet, let alone have any kind of savings,” Imran, Sharifa Hussain’s youngest son, advised Al Jazeera whereas analyzing a brand new batch of matkis, small earthen pots, which have simply come out of the kiln.

 Imran Hussain, 25, joined the household enterprise after finishing 10 years of education. He is but to get married and nonetheless lives together with his dad and mom and grandmother within the household home.

While enterprise may be powerful, his face lights up when he speaks of Diwali, the Hindu competition of lights.

“During the two months in the run-up to Diwali, we end up selling all our diyas, and make as much as 200,000 rupees ($2,428)!”

Imran Hussain says it may be a wrestle to make ends meet within the household pottery enterprise [Deborah Grey/Al Jazeera]

Afzal Khan, a 37-year-old Mumbai native, can also be anxious about his livelihood. He owns 5 warehouses in Dharavi that he rents out for about $2,100 per 30 days.

“They are talking about resettling families and manufacturing units. But what will become of my warehouses? I stand to lose my only source of income,” Khan advised Al Jazeera.

Jayesh Jain, who runs a plastic recycling enterprise in Dharavi that processes about two tonnes of refuse every day, stated the authorities have didn’t seek the advice of with native residents and companies concerning the redevelopment plans.

“No one from the government has spoken to us,” Jain, 40, advised Al Jazeera. “No one has asked what we want, what we need… I am paying wages to 30 people including 15 women workers. So, if my business suffers, I’m not the only one affected by it.”

Dharavi covers approximately 2.6sq kilometres (one sq. mile) in central Mumbai, nestled between the worldwide airport and the rich district of Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), which is home to international consulates, five-star inns, and the headquarters of multinational firms and banks.

Home to an estimated a million folks, Dharavi has the very best inhabitants density of any neighbourhood in India. The slum can also be a thriving nerve centre of enterprise exercise. Dharavi is home to greater than 12,000 micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) engaged in enterprise reminiscent of garment making, pottery and recycling.

When the British cleared factories out of the southern a part of Mumbai within the early 20th century, employees and low-income households moved to Dharavi and lived alongside the native fishers. Over the years, migrant labourers from states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar made the world their home. Today Dharavi has a various inhabitants of people that communicate over a dozen languages and observe totally different faiths.

Dharavi’s residents dwell cheek-by-jowl, typically in makeshift, two or three-storied buildings put collectively utilizing corrugated steel sheets, picket planks, and different scrap supplies. The buildings had been all constructed with out permits and residents have been struggling to get authorized recognition for many years.

Afzal Khan and Jayesh Jain are anxious that the deliberate redevelopment of Dharavi might harm their livelihoods [Deborah Grey/Al Jazeera]

For many a long time after India gained independence from the British in 1947, successive governments routinely demolished slum settlements, leaving residents homeless. But with many residents having nowhere else to go, shanty cities quickly popped up once more. Over time, residents joined arms with union leaders and housing rights activists to demand a extra compassionate and sustainable answer.

“People have been stigmatised as ‘slum dwellers’ for generations, including communities which have lived in Dharavi for over 100 years. If people had been seen as legitimate citizens of Mumbai, they would have been allowed to invest in their own civic infrastructure,” Matias Echanove, a accomplice at urbz, a analysis collective that specialises in participatory planning and design, advised Al Jazeera.

Urbz, which was based in 2008, has an workplace in Dharavi itself and has been working intently with its residents to handle their issues.

“Dharavi has not been allowed to complete its transformation from slum to neighbourhood,” stated Samidha Patil, one other accomplice at urbz. “We see it as a homegrown neighbourhood, which has an immense potential for improvement. The potential lies within the neighbourhood. Residents of Dharavi need to be supported in their initiatives rather than dismissed.”

Echanove stated the residents of Dharavi have been investing of their houses and companies for years and needs to be allowed to maintain doing so.

“Incremental development and planning could and should go hand in hand,” Echanove stated.

“Moving everyone into apartment blocks would restrict this development and lead to the destruction of livelihoods and displacements.”

Ramesh Prabhu, a housing rights activist in Mumbai, stated the redevelopment of Dharavi is lengthy overdue after years of “bureaucratic delays and vote-bank politics”.

“This should have happened at least 20 years ago,” Prabhu advised Al Jazeera. “Many NGOs had conducted surveys of residents. The government should have used that data and started keeping its own legal records of residents. This way we could have avoided delays in determining who is eligible for free homes under the rehabilitation scheme, and the whole process of redevelopment could have started decades ago.”

Plans to redevelop Dharavi have been within the works for many years [File: Shailesh Andrade/Reuters]

Dharavi’s future solely started to obtain severe consideration following the institution of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) in 1995.

In 2003, the Maharashtra state authorities determined to redevelop Dharavi as an built-in township. However, the plans drew protests from residents cautious of the dimensions and high quality of houses being provided within the redevelopment.

Multiple invites to tender had been made over time however the undertaking didn’t take off. Eight firms from India, the Middle East and South Korea participated in a pre-bid assembly earlier than the most recent tender floated on October 1, 2022, in line with MoneyControl. After quite a few false begins over the a long time, Adani Realty secured the undertaking with its bid in November 2022.

SVR Srinivas, CEO of the Dharavi Redevelopment Board that’s overseeing the undertaking on behalf of the state authorities, which holds a 20 % stake within the undertaking, stated the redevelopment will supply quite a lot of housing choices to go well with residents’ wants.

“We are going to first focus on providing homes to project-affected families,” Srinivas, who’s the chief secretary of the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, advised Al Jazeera.

“While free homes will be provided to eligible families, we are also going to offer homes for rent at cost to those who do not meet the cut-off criteria, and give them the option to buy the property on a hire-purchase basis.”

Some of the houses shall be constructed on a 19-hectare (47.5-acre) plot of land outdoors Dharavi that was acquired from the railways.

“This plot of land is physically adjacent to Dharavi, so people will be relocated in close proximity to their original homes and places of work,” Srinivas stated.

This proximity is important, in line with housing activists.

“In case of many other previous slum rehabilitation projects, people would be resettled in far-flung places and this impacted their livelihood. So, they would just rent out or sell those homes and come back to the same spot and the slum would spring up again,” Prabhu stated.

Eligible households are those that can show that they’ve been residents since earlier than the deadline of January 1, 2000. There had been approximately 58,000 such households when the federal government final carried out a survey of residents in 2009.

But the precise variety of households, together with those that are ineligible, is estimated at present to be nearer to 100,000. Many are households like Sharifa’s which have grownup youngsters who moved out of the household home within the time because the survey was carried out.

Gautam Adani
Gautam Adani is Asia’s richest man [File: Amit Dave/Reuters]

A spokesman for Adani Realty stated he couldn’t touch upon the undertaking till the corporate had obtained a letter of intent from the federal government.

Back within the Dharavi neighbourhood of Kumbhar Wada, Dhansukh Kamailya, a potter from Gujarat state, is cautious of the “narrative of ‘free housing’.”

“The new homes are in exchange for our existing homes that will be demolished,” Kamailya advised Al Jazeera.

Kamaliya, whose household enterprise has been in operation for greater than 90 years, stated potters are a proud lot.

“Our self-respect comes from our self-reliance. Our craft is a source of our livelihood, without it, we cannot be atmanirbhar (self-reliant),” he stated, utilizing a time period utilized by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a part of his “Self-reliant India” marketing campaign.

For residents reminiscent of Sharifa Hussain, rest room services are one other concern.

“When I came here after marriage, my mother-in-law’s mother-in-law was still alive, and I saw how much she struggled in her old age. So, I insisted on building a toilet and bathroom in our home,” she stated. “Will Adani give me my own toilet?”

The metropolis authorities has assured residents that every one new houses will embrace bogs.

“After all formalities are completed, we will be releasing a master plan for the project,” Srinivas stated. “We want the public to see that we are committed to addressing all concerns about the rehabilitation of project-affected people, especially those pertaining to the small businesses and manufacturing units.”

Dhansukh Kamaliya’s Family Has Been Working In The Pottery Business For The Last 90 Years. Image By Deborah Grey))
Dhansukh Kamaliya’s household has been within the pottery enterprise for the final 90 years [Deborah Grey/Al Jazeera]

Unlike Sharifa Hussain, most of Dharavi’s residents depend on public bogs which are scattered throughout the slums, as their houses do not need indoor bogs and loos. Until a few decade in the past, some residents would nonetheless relieve themselves alongside railway tracks early within the morning. Some nonetheless really feel deeply ashamed about how their struggles had been depicted in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which includes a scene by which the kid protagonist plunges right into a pit of faecal matter.

Even at present, various travel and tourism firms are attempting to erase that picture of Dharavi by providing excursions to international guests that showcase how the slum has a thriving economic system and is home to hard-working, entrepreneurial folks.

“When I first visited Dharavi in October 2005, people who lived outside Dharavi feared it. Many friends warned me that if I enter Dharavi, I won’t be able to come out,” Krishna Pujari, who runs Reality Tours and Travel, advised Al Jazeera.

“I saw hard-working people who were proud of the fact that they had built a life for themselves with their own talent and perseverance,” he added. “I wanted to showcase that in my tours.”

 Today, Pujari is commonly stopped by folks in Dharavi eager to greet him or ask him for assist.

“We have been running youth empowerment and digital literacy programs in Dharavi,” he stated. “We also used to run a school, but that had to be shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now focusing on expanding our projects to rural India.”

While Pujari stands to lose earnings from Dharavi’s redevelopment, he’s not anxious.

“I have tours running all across India. The loss of income from Dharavi tours will not impact me much, but the people here stand to lose their livelihood if their concerns surrounding the relocation of their businesses are not addressed,” he stated.

Krishna Pujari,
Krishna Pujari leads guests on excursions of Dharavi [Deborah Grey/Al Jazeera]

Srinivas stated the federal government is delicate to the wants of small enterprise homeowners and is contemplating a 5-year exemption from the products and companies tax amongst different incentives to encourage business.

“Plus, we would like to bring them under a more organised system where they can benefit from better measures to not only grow their businesses but also control pollution,” he stated.

Srinivas stated he expects the undertaking’s “master plan” to be launched inside six months of all formalities being accomplished.

Until extra particulars are made public, anxiousness about the way forward for Dharavi is all however sure to persist amongst its residents.

“Dharavi is centrally located and close to five railway stations, making it highly accessible, said Kamaliya, the potter in Dharavi’s Kumbhar Wada neighbourhood. “It is a sone ki chidiya (golden bird) that everyone wants.”