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Home > News > PTI

Asia's biggest ghetto: A win-win for all

Nishka Ratnam in Mumbai | June 03, 2007 19:00 IST

With world attention riveted on Asia's largest ghetto, Maharashtra government's "last ditch" efforts to salvage the settlement from going to pot seems to have turned out into a win-win situation for almost everyone involved with a stress on improvement of the human life index.

The Dharavi Redevelopment Project, conceived almost 15 years ago and which faced resistance from people unable to comprehend its vision and advantages, was unveiled in detail this week and is now being looked to internationally as one which could be replicated elsewhere.

The $2.3 billion project, spreads over 530 hectares involving 57,000 families, a small 'township' comparable in size to a few European cities, is now open for global bidding and an open book in terms of dimensions and facets. At a press meet called to announce the floating of tenders, Slum Redevelopment Authority officials were taken aback at the presence of the overseas media and interested persons. No one expected such a large turnout.

"The world is watching us," Mukesh Mehta of M M consultants who conceived the project, told PTI. "For a city whose 14 million people live in about 55 per cent of the area as slums DRP was incomprehensible," he says. "The feeling of insecurity led to protest and opposition... also an inability to visualise a better life."

"However, the tables seem to have turned and now... activists and citizen action groups unable to offer anything on their own are latching on to the bandwagon of good publicity and attention-seeking the project is offering."

"In a democracy every one is entitled to an opinion... it's our duty to listen... I would like one-on-one with all," said DRP chief I S Chahal.

"We are not here to hurt anyone," Chahal said, adding, "If you look at it objectively it's a win-win for all."

"There are no premiums, or gains to anyone group... the bidding process has taken care of that," he added. "The people deserve a better life. The issue is not so much as an "X square feet vs Y square feet but simply of better living conditions," Mehta said.

"In fact today slum-dwellers are getting for free and legally, what they did not have before... a roof over their heads, medical facilities, schools and recreation benefits."

DRP, a holistic scheme, will effect a five-pronged comprehensive, simultaneous development effort involving now "in-cetu/in-cetu development... whatever is inside Dharavi will remain inside."

"There will be no displacement," Chahal said, adding "never before has such an attempt been made."

Transit camps are to be put in place within the ghetto. An overseas camera team present, said "We are really interested in knowing how this will work out, in fact we are planning a film... and a feature film too... It amazes us to see how content people are here."

Dharavi has been romanticised by Bollywood for years. Until the overseas production goes on screen it is not known how Dharavi will appear, as the production crew were unwilling to make more known. "But we have been here for two years, researching and have begun filming. National Geographic's feature on Dharavi is what inspired us."

Had the project been in Delhi it may have met with less resistance. "Delhi is a beautiful city... with a sense of aesthetics..," Mehta said.

"There people are used to well-planned roads, clear areas and just good living." "If we can successfully manage here, there are other areas that will need attention," says Chahal who is also Chairman of Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority.

"The rules here are the same as being followed in slums around the airport... another area of controversy... but Dharavi will remain unique... it a first time effort."

"And no... MHADA has no stake... we are looking to outside developers in global bidding... may the best man win. Tenders have gone to all corners of the globe... to as far as Canada and Australia."

In terms and conditions unusual for developers, they will be responsible for all aspects of the five areas, including maintenance and upgradation for as long as 15 years.

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