Dharavi poised to shed its 'Largest Slum in Asia' epithet

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Mumbai, Mar 22: Rapid development planned at Dharavi here is poised to change the face of Asia's largest slum. Many local and international companies are in the fray for bagging contracts for Dharavi's development and the State Government has decided to develop the area in a sector-wise manner.

Rehabilitation of the slum dwellers, who number in lakhs, is going to prove to be an onerous task. The slum-dwellers, too, want the largest piece of cake by demanding houses of 500 square feet area rather than the 225-sq feet houses that are usually provided to the beneficiaries under the Slums Rehabilitation Authority's scheme. Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray had voiced the slum dwellers demand at a public meeting. He had gone a step further by demanding that the beneficiaries should also be provided with commercial spaces. That apart, there should be a playground, schools and hospitals, Mr Thackeray said while warning that his party will launch an agitation if the demands are not met.

''Dharavi is witnessing a slow change because of the constructions and other development works and the ignominy of being described as Asia's largest slum will not hold for long, a former Dharavi MLA, and now MP from North West Mumbai, Eknath Gaikwad said.

In fact, it was Mr Gaikwad who had first proposed that the slum residents should be provided 400-sq feet houses and the demand is now being echoed by other political parties.

Says S Natarajan, a Dharavi resident since the last 45 years, ''The area has witnessed a change over the last couple of years.'' ''We are looking forward to coming out of the slum and residing in real buildings,'' he adds. Rajan, Natarajan's 34-year-old son, also adds wistfully, ''I have been here since my birth but would want my children to live in buildings.'' Dharavi, initially had a huge South Indian population, but now has people from all regions from all across the country making it their home.

Vishwas Sawant, owner of a leather boutique, recalls, ''There were few shops when I had started my business, but now Dharavi has become a huge leather market.'' ''Do not be surprised if you find a Bollywood actor or other famed personalities sporting Dharavi-made leather jackets which are on par with international standards,'' says Ahmed Ali, the manager of King's Leather Mart.

The leather goods traders are happy that their businesses will flourish once the sector-wise development is completed. They are also worried that they might have to shift to other areas.

Magsaysay awardee Arputham Joachim, who has dedicated himself to the cause of housing for the poor and the slum dwellers, says, ''The issue of housing is not easy as it has been seen that the original slum dwellers are many times evicted by the slum lords.'' Joachim is president of SPARC, an NGO working for housing for the poor and slum dwellers in Mumbai.

The locals of the area are worried and scared about the sudden interest generated in their area by political parties in the last couple of years. Banwari lal Gupta, a resident of the area for many decades, says ''There was a time when we felt bad about telling our addresses to others but now the situation has changed to a great extent. Many people are scared because of the sudden interest being generated in the area and all the political parties fighting for our rights.'' Another resident, Naaga Ammal adds ''The political parties have joined hands and are fighting for our rights which is disturbing and worrying as we may end up being hurt in the crossfire.'' The area constitutes the Rajabali Chawl, 90 and 60 feet road area, Netaji Nagar, Kalyanwadi, Kamaraj Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar, Mahim, Sion and others that are a cluster of individual slum areas and have a few thousand slums in each block.

The State Government has come out with a sector-wise development for the area, which will be auctioned to the highest bidder as a single developer will not be able to do justice to all the residents and other small scale businesses that are being run in the area for many decades.

Dharavi, the name synonymous with slums or 'Jhopadpattis', will undergo a sea change once the sector-wise development of the area starts and will add to the new high rises that have been built in the area by individual builders under the SRA scheme in the last few years.

UNI

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