Dharavi Asia's largest slum is nestled in central heart of Mumbai city. It hit international map when the movie Slumdog Millionaire, inspired from squalor of Dharavi, went on to bag Oscar award recognition. Dharavi is spread over some 535 acres where it houses mainly migrants hailing from South and North India. The Hindu and Muslims co-existing together in perfect harmony here portrays the secular face of India. One can get lost walking through its labyrinth of narrow lanes lined with clusters of dilapidated shanties. Lack of basic amenities like toilets and drainages has made place unhygienic and filthy.
The migrants showcase its entrepreneurial skills boast of number of small recycled and ancillary units in plastic, tanneries, leather and chemicals. Some units exports goods worth several million dollars annually.
Ever since Maharashtra government announced 90 billion Slum Redevelopment Scheme for people of Dharavi, the project is stonewalled with opposition and protest lead by people of Dharavi.
The project envisages undertaking about 70 million square feet of construction. Some 30 million square feet of that will be for residential space and amenities, whereas the remaining 40 million square feet will be put up for sale.
The government plans to build 57000 new flats consisting of 225 sq ft for resident of Dharavi. For people of Dharavi the area of 225 sq ft of flat allotted is not enough for them to accommodate their large families averaging about 5-7 members and also for carrying out manufacturing activities.
Kumbharwada in Dharavi consist of skilled potter families manufacturing of clay pots a tradition handed down from generations. An average potter joint family has about 6-8 members occupying an area of 600-800 sq ft in a rundown shanty made of brick and cement walls and corrugated sheet roofs tops. Clay Pots producing activity is carried on with its four walls on the floor and a wooden loft built overhead is a make shift place for members to sleep and eat.
I spoke to 25 year old Darmesh who owns a pot ware shop on 90 feet road of Dharavi. He lamented 'How can the government expect our large family to stay in a small flat of 225 sq ft area provided by the government. Will there be any space left to carry out our pot making activity that feed us and take care of our child's education.
Another potter Chunilal, which has 7 members in his family consisting of his wife and children and parents staying in an area of 650 sq ft shanty. Whereas the floor is taken up for manufacturing clay pot through rolling wheel machine, remaining space gets filled for storing freshly produced pots. This was his reaction against the Government sponsored free houses and shifting of manufacturing base elsewhere 'The smaller flat offered by government is unacceptable to us. If the government wants us to shift our units to out of the city limits than it would spell doom of our pot making business. We have been carrying out our activity here since our ancestor's time. This place is famous for clay pots and people from all over the country come to us here to buy our products, if we were to shift elsewhere we stand to lose our clients whom we depend for our survival. As it is pot making is a dying art as demands for clay pots is not the same what it was in the past thanks to modern usage of plastic cups and bottles. Our demand is that government gives us bigger flats and allots us separate plots for carrying out manufacturing in Dharavi itself.'
Another problem facing the potter families are that as their family size get larger and new people keep pouring in to Dharavi, the shanties have taken to vertical growth due to lack of space. Most shanties houses structure of single, double and even triple stories.
The government recently carried out survey of houses in Dharavi in order to identify the beneficiaries of slum redevelopments. As per the rule the government gives legality only to ground floor built houses. Any structure built above is considered illegal. There are thousands of families residing above ground floor house in single story house will not benefit from government scheme and on the contrary will be rendered homeless once the scheme is implemented.
So Dharavi sitting on a gold mine where everyone including the government officials, builders and NGOS want to have their share of pie, but for the people of Dharavi free house appears a distant dream.