While Dharavi goes to the polls tomorrow, let’s have a rendezvous with Dharavi!

Dharavi: Present Scenario

Assumed as the largest slum in Asia (though factually this is disputable), Dharavi is eyed as the prime property in the city of dreams, strategically positioned between Mumbai’s two main suburban railway lines, the Western and Central Railways. It houses nearly a million people now, mostly poor and marginal. It is also the hub of homegrown industries such as tanneries, pottery, bakeries, recycling, embroidery and tailoring among others.

Many of the residents here are now second and third generation residents who have bought hutments from the original inhabitants. Residents here say that the move to recognise slum transfer was initiated ahead of the 2012 civic polls. But it was kept it in the cold storage for the next two years, only to be announced ahead of the present LS polls! So is the elusive Dharavi Redevopment Plan, rotting for a decade now.

dharavi industry 615 Dharavi Goes to Polls

The Dharavi Slum : Residents call it ‘Home’ …an ’embarrassing eyesore’ in the middle of India’s dream city

Once there was a ‘Dharavi’….

In the 19th century or before, when Bombay was growing, the area of present-day Dharavi was a mangrove swamp, inhabited by Kolifishermen. Dharavi was then referred to as the village of Koliwadas. In the middle of the 19th century, after decades of urban growth under the East India Company and British Raj, Slums were heavily concentrated in areas meant for ‘native’ Indian population. In 1859, plague spread in Mumbai and adjacent areas. The British government demolished the slums inside the city and working class people were expelled from the peninsular part of the city, to a distant edge of the city in the north of the village of Koliwadas. Thus was born Dharavi.

Today at 557Acres, Dharavi is one of the largest Slums in the world.

A Varied Population- Dharavi: A Brief Synopsis!

First the tanneries and other small polluting trades moved into Dharavi. The workers, lower caste Hindus and Muslims came to Dharavi. Others followed as the early settlers were Kumbars (potters) community from Gujarat. Casual labourers, milkmen, embroidery and zari workers from Uttar Pradesh, started pouring in. The first mosque in Dharavi’s, Badi Masjid, was built in 1887 and so was the oldest Hindu temple, Ganesh Mandir, in 1913. Tamil migrants came to Dharavi in large numbers in 1920’s.

After the Independence, Dharavi had grown to be the largest slum in Mumbai and virtually the largest in India. Today, this Slum cluster has become a major hub for informal Mumbai economy. Though the actual number of Dharavi population is unaccounted, it’s estimated about 4 Lakh to 7 lakhs. It’s the most densely populated areas in India. 30% of the population are Muslim, 60% are Hindus, and among the Hindus half of them are Dalits, nearly 20% are from the predominant Caste working with the tanneries.

Dharavi: Losing It’s Status?

According to the 2011 census, there are 3.1 crore people in Mumbai city itself and 9.3 crore in the suburbs, and nearly 78% of the city’s population live in slums. In the recent years, several slums have sprung up around Mumbai, housing a huge incoming population from various states has outgrown the mega status of Dharavi! Though, Mumbai city’s main areas have no much of juxtaposed slums like Delhi or Chennai, big Slums are already there and growing in its fringe areas. Town planners are saying that there are at least three to four slams vying for this infamous distinction, some of them may be bigger than the size of Dharavi.

Once the smaller slums in the suburban areas have now grown into bigger Slums. The slums that have grown in the Kurla-Ghatkopar area, the Mankhurd-Govandi area, the Yogi hill slopes right from Bhandup to Mulund adjoining the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in the Eastern area and Dindoshi on the western boundary of the SG National Park have all set to dethrone Dharavi from its largest Slum status!

Dharavi: ‘Redevelopment Plan’?!!

Since 2004, the BMC has been working continuously to get Mumbai free from Slum clusters. Various drives and plans were executed as part of its road widening projects in the city. Major initiatives were taken to clear Slums around Senapati Bapat Marg from Mahim to Elphinstone and Mumbai CST to Wadala.

However, City’s urban development officials say that the progress is slow, due to the strong builders lobby with political nexus opposing their scheme, as they want to get these prime lands vacated for lucrative real estate business. Also the Government has now to ensure adequate rehabilitation measures and housing for the slum dwellers. There are legal issues as the Slum Redevelopment Act mandates free housing for dwellers of the slum structures protected up to 1995. Then there are a huge number of NGO’s and Pressure Groups that have sprung up to halt the process by hard core bargaining.

dharavi2bmakeovergr8 Dharavi Goes to Polls

Redevelopment is an Utopia for the residents of Dharavi…

In the same way, the decade-old Dharavi Development Plan has not progressed much, due to various obstacles and complexities related to outright clearance of encroachments. For example, the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) is still unable to complete the first building on the reclaimed land  due to a height cap issued by the aviation ministry, the second building work is yet to begin due to a set of clearances. The Maharashtra Housing Board is the entitled Planning Authority of Dharavi’s Sector 5 and is in charge for the redevelopment of the whole sector. The redevelopment of the other four sectors is being undertaken by the Dharavi Redevelopment Project Authority (DRPA).

 Congress Represented The Area For Long

The present Congress MP Eknath Gaikwad has represented Mumbai South-Central constituency since 2004. A three-time MLA from Dharavi, he has also served as a Minister. Over and above, Dharavi has traditionally been a Congress stronghold. The 74-year-old Congress Candidate from South Central Mumbai Eknath Gaikwad is a veteran in the game. He has already earned the nickname of ‘Giant Killer’ after he defeated the then Lok Sabha Speaker, Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi in 2004. In the next Lok Sabha Elections, he broke the jinx in this particular constituency, where no candidate has ever been elected twice. In 2014, he is hoping for a hat-trick. Also Congress is hoping to benefit from an expected split in Marathi votes between the Shiv Sena and MNS, both of which have fielded their candidates.

But now people are saying that he has failed on almost most of the promises he had made to Dharavi voters, and most significantly, he has virtually done very little in fulfilling the Dharavi Development Project. He now says that it’s a big project and needs more time.He says that most of his time was actually spent on convincing the Dharavi residents, about the benefit of the project. It involves a huge area. Not just buildings a few new blocks here and there, the whole infrastructure has to be built up and it cannot be built in a jiffy.He says that now people are convinced that they will get new houses. But what about the polluting and many unauthorised business activities running from the slum clusters, even the politicians have no answer to that. Gaikwad blames the Opposition parties for the slow progress and also says that it’s the Opposition which is misguiding the people.

Dharavi: The Political Melting Pot

In this Election, the Congress-NCP Coalition Government’s highly ambitious plan, that has promised to metamorphose Dharavi from that highly congested, tinderbox like clumsy slum clusters into a nicely planned cluster of high rise buildings with all the amenities, seems to backfire. The political pundits are now saying the growing disillusionment and spiralling insecurities can now easily jeopardise its poll prospects.

Many Dharavi residents, who have been voting in Congress for many years, are now utterly disheartened by the State Government’s lack of progress in the matter, who now say that under the pressure from Politico-Builders nexus, its dragging its feet on this highly ambitious, decade-old Redevelopment Project. Some others now say that the entire plan was nothing but an eyewash. A crude joke with the poor people!

Many now say openly that they have lost faith in the present political representation. And they need a change! Redevelopment is OK, but the intention of the Government is not beyond doubt. It took so long to get it started! Eknath Gaikwad’s daughter Varsha Gaikwad is now the area MLA. In the Municipality level, once Congress controlled all wards in Dharavi, say in the year 2002. In 2007, it could hold only five.In the last civic elections in 2012, Congress candidates could win only one ward!

dharavi makeover Dharavi Goes to Polls

Makeover for Dharavi?

This clearly shows how the rulling combine is losing its popularity. People say that they have seen many Governments-Appointed Consultants visiting the Slum area, asking their suggestions and choices on the Redevelopment Plan, but nothing happened thereafter. People, who have voted traditionally for the Congress, are now thinking seriously about reconsidering their choices.

Rahul Shewale is the Shiv Sena’s candidate from the South Central Mumbai Constituency. He says that the people here are aware about the fact that the Congress-NCP Government has repeatedly dragged its feet on the Dharavi Redevelopment Project, in the last 10 years, which has ultimately made people disillusioned. And definitely it is an important poll issue here. Shewale is more informed as he himself was born in Dharavi.

At the lower level, Shiv Sena has two Corporator of Wards in Dharavi, while Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), The Samajwadi Party and The Republican Party of India (RPI) have one Corporator each. One post is held by an Independent candidate, who was a Congress rebel.


Dharavi slum in Mumbai 001 Dharavi Goes to Polls

Dharavi: Picture Source: The Guardian

Religion and Caste, the Deciding Factors

Dharavi’s Kumbharwada, one of the oldest settlements in the area, houses around 1000 families.

Most of them hailed from Saurashtra region of Gujarat. Obviously it is a major Narendra Modi support base. The potter’s community is not happy with the Congress and hoping that Modi the development icon, if elected as the Prime Minister, will definitely pay heed to their demands. In areas like Dharavi’s Matunga Labour Camp –which is considered as the birth place of the Maharashtra’s Dalit Panther Movement, has many Muslims and some Christians as its residents. Congress Candidate Eknath Gaikwad has mass support here. And despite their disillusionment, most people in Muslim dominating will definitely vote for the Congress. Because traditionally Shiv Sena is not their obvious choice.

The famous Dhobi Ghat’s Maharashtrian dominance will agreeably go for the Shiv Sena candidate. Dharavi’s sizable Tamil and Telugu population also are the traditional Congress Vote Banks.  But the 2014 Modi influence can cut some ice this time.Gaikwad, a Dalit face of the Congress, was harping more on door-to-door campaigning, meeting slum-dwellers in Dharavi. People often blame that he has sympathy with the builders for slum redevelopment.  Except a few roads in all these years, he has not initiated any major Hospital or College in the vicinity.

Samajwadi Party, which traditionally goes for a Muslim candidate has also played the Caste Card, by fielding Kashinath Pasi, a representative of the community that dominates Dharavi’s leather and tannery business. Incidentally Pasi is also known as the ‘Cable King’and is facing several criminal cases, some of them are serious allegations.

By Deep Basu

Also See: Your Vote Matters-Please Pass It On…
Modi, Opinion Polls & The BJP
The  ‘Modi Effect’ and the Middle Class

Image Source: National Geographic

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