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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 August 2007, 22:49 GMT 23:49 UK
Mumbai slum dwellers fight development plan
Karishma Vaswani
By Karishma Vaswani
India business correspondent, BBC News, Mumbai

Dharavi, home to 600,000 people, extends for 500 acres

Asia's biggest slum is up for sale.

Dharavi, in Mumbai, is home to hundreds of thousands of people, but it occupies a prime position close to the business district of India's financial capital.

No surprise, therefore, that it has attracted a great deal of interest from overseas developers, who have till 31 August to submit bids.

But Dharavi's residents are up in arms.

Break a leg

Finding the demonstration held one Tuesday evening in August is a challenge.

It's treacherous enough to navigate the labyrinth that is Dharavi in the day. At night and in the rain, it's almost dangerous.

Once at the site of the protest, however, an almost Dickensian scene unfolds: in the middle of Dharavi's squalid maze, hundreds of men, women, and children have gathered despite Mumbai's monsoon rains to wage a war for their survival.

All those developers... they didn't make Dharavi. We did. We are not leaving
Madhukar, Dharavi resident

People of all faiths - Hindu, Muslim, Christian - have come together to protest against the development of their homes.

Raju Khode, their leader, insists he is not against development. He simply wants it to happen on the slum dwellers' terms.

"The government hasn't even approached us," he says. "We won't let them come here and raze our homes to the ground without our permission.

"They want to come here without consulting us? We'll break their legs first."

His fury is echoed by many of the slum dwellers, who say all they are doing is fighting for the the right to live in the place they have called their home for generations.

The government has offered the slum dwellers who can prove they've lived in Dharavi from before 1995 a place in the new development.

They'll be given housing in the slum while it's being developed. The government estimates 57,000 families who live in the slum now will be rehoused in the new development under this scheme.

But the majority of Dharavi's residents - who don't have the papers to prove they lived in Dharavi before 1995 - face losing their homes and their livelihoods.


It takes a visit to Dharavi to understand just what the teeming alleys mean to its residents. The simplistic title of "Asia's biggest slum" barely begins to do it justice.

Many of Dharavi's residents are unhappy at the prospect

It is home to more than 600,000 people, most of whom make their living there. Spreading over 500 acres (2 sq km), it is estimated that cottage industries in Dharavi generate almost $40m worth of business every year.

But now change is on its way here, in the form of a $2bn plan for a new Dharavi.

Developers want to transform this massive slum into a glossy, shining symbol of New India.

Mukesh Mehta is the man in charge, hired by the Indian government to execute the plan.

"As of today, Dharavi is only a ghetto suburb," he says. "We want to give the slum dwellers the same quality of life that everyone else in Mumbai gets.

"And Dharavi just doesn't belong to them - it belongs to all of Mumbai. We're planning on turning that place around: putting in a golfing range, apartment blocks and India's largest cricket stadium.

"We'll be giving them a better quality of life."

No more room

Dharavi is not just a charity case. Mumbai is suffering a crippling shortage of office space, pushing property prices to levels similar to Manhattan's - and Dharavi could offer a solution.

Pranay Vakil
The centre of gravity in India's financial capital is moving north, towards Dharavi
Pranay Vakil, Knight Franks

"Dharavi sits right in the middle of Mumbai," says Pranay Vakil, property consultant at Knight Franks.

"And the centre of gravity in India's financial capital is moving north, towards Dharavi. Right next to it sits Mumbai's new corporate district, the Bandra Kurla Complex.

"And there's no more room to build in this city. Dharavi is the most important location in Mumbai today."

'Why should we go?'

But for the hundreds of thousands that live and work there, Dharavi is worth a lot more.

Madhukar, a 60-year old leather goods maker, was born here. Five generations of his family have made their living here.

He remembers when Dharavi was just marshland, and how after school he would help his grandfather and his dad fill up the soil with cement to build their home and their leather workshop.

"Why should we go? We won't go," Madhukar says.

"We are the ones who made Dharavi. All those developers, the government, they didn't make it. We built Dharavi. We are not leaving."

Millions like Madhukar depend on Dharavi for their livelihoods.

Transforming it into a new vision of India is part of Mumbai's dream of repeating Shanghai's breakneck growth into a world city.

But the human cost of development may be just too much to bear.

India Business Report is broadcast repeatedly every Sunday on BBC World.


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