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Dharavi, Racecourse Deals Reverberate In Mumbai Polls

By Dev Chatterjee
May 17, 2024 09:01 IST
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Despite Dharavi being located in the Mumbai North Central constituency and Mahalaxmi Racecourse in South Mumbai, the issues have caught the attention of all parties and their candidates.

IMAGE: Rahul Shewale, the Shiv Sena candidate for Mumbai South Central, files his nomination for the Lok Sabha elections accompanied by Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde, April 30, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

In a city where space is at a premium, two vast tracts of land -- the 500-acre Dharavi slums and the 225-acre Mahalaxmi Racecourse -- have become the battlegrounds for the Bharatiya Janata Party-backed Eknath Shinde government (the Mahayuti) and the Opposition alliance, led by Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena (UBT).

The Maharashtra government's ambitious vision to metamorphose Dharavi, India's largest slum, into a world-class city is facing stiff resistance with Thackeray alleging that the project has been handed to the Adani group under terms favourable to it.

'We want to give 500 square feet houses to all Dharavi residents and scrap the government resolution that mandates other Mumbai builders to buy transfer of development rights (TDR) from Adani that would be generated from Dharavi redevelopment,' Thackeray says at a public meeting.

Despite Dharavi being located in the Mumbai North Central constituency and Mahalaxmi Racecourse in South Mumbai, the issues have caught the attention of all parties and their candidates.

Rahul Shewale, the 51-year-old MP for Mumbai South Central from the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena, asserts his deep understanding of the challenges faced by Dharavi's residents.

Born and raised in Dharavi, Shewale notes that he has represented the people for several decades, and emphasises that the project is a joint venture, not solely an Adani enterprise.

"The government of Maharashtra also owns a stake in the special purpose vehicle and has government nominees on the board of the Dharavi Redevelopment Corporation. We will take all Dharavi legal residents into confidence who are supporting the project," Shewale assures.

Without any social security, the workers living in Dharavi survived by doing odd jobs. The Dharavi redevelopment is a beacon of hope for many of them.

IMAGE: Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray addresses Dharavi residents, February 11, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

However, some locals are opposed to the project because they are deemed ineligible for redeveloped housing and are expected to be relocated to another site in Mulund. This has also led to resentment among residents of Mulund who do not want Dharavi residents in their area.

But Mihir Kotecha, the BJP candidate for North East Mumbai, stresses: "Let me reassure everyone that no resettlement from Dharavi will take place in Mulund."

"The land sought by the redevelopment authorities was the Mulund dumping ground. Since the waste at the Mulund dumping ground will be processed for the next six years, no development of residential projects can be done there," he clarifies.

In Dharavi, residents feel the economic prosperity seen in the rest of the city, with apartments selling for over $1 million in posh towers, has bypassed them. Guddu Kumar, a 23-year-old worker employed at a jeans manufacturing unit, says their shop used to be bustling with workers, but in the past three years, the number of orders has dwindled.

Dharavi, home to numerous small-scale industries generating an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue, has the potential to transform into a 'mini-BKC' (Bandra Kurla Complex)' due to its proximity to the airport, business hubs, and its expansive land area.

To facilitate this redevelopment, the Maharashtra and Union governments have transferred a portion of railway land to the SPV to accommodate residents in new buildings, allowing the vacated land to be redeveloped. Currently, a survey is underway to identify legal residents.

But Varsha Gaikwad, Mumbai regional Congress president and Maha Vikas Aghadi candidate for Mumbai North Central, counters the plan, saying: "What are people of Dharavi getting in redevelopment? The government plans to extend the BKC and not develop Dharavi. Injustice is happening with the people in Dharavi."

IMAGE: The Mahalaxmi racecourse. Photograph: ANI Photo

The state government's plan to redevelop Mahalaxmi Racecourse into a theme park with malls is also facing strong opposition.

Arvind Sawant, the candidate for Mumbai South from the Shiv Sena (UBT), is unhappy with the proposal and believes this to be a ploy to seize prime land for redevelopment, even as the government has clarified that there will be no construction in the racecourse, one of the few open areas in the city.

"We want development in Mumbai, but not at the expense of the environment and people's rights. Our central park project for Mahalaxmi Racecourse was about enhancing the space for the common man, whereas the BJP's project will benefit only the builders and the people," says Sawant, also the incumbent MP.

In March, the state cabinet cleared the proposal to develop the Mahalaxmi Racecourse into a theme park on 120 acres, including land reclaimed from the sea.

'For too long, vested interests kept the BMC's doors closed to ordinary Mumbaikars. I wrote to the BMC to hold an International Design Contest to transform 300 acres of coastal road and racecourse land into a world-class green space. This will truly create a 'People's Park',' tweeted Milind Deora, who has switched to Shinde's Shiv Sena from the Congress.

As Mumbai's six seats head to polls on Monday, May 20, lack of space, bad traffic, and world-class commuting solutions are among the primary concerns for the electorate and key issues for party candidates.

With inputs from Anjali Kumari

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Dev Chatterjee in Mumbai
Source: source
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024