Project merely a political gimmick, say activists

The much-touted redevelopment of sector five of Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums, is leading to a political turf-war between the ruling Congress-Nationalist-Congress coalition and the Shiv Sena, what with elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation round the corner.

The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) will be in charge of the project. However, the project has hit a roadblock with the Sena-led BMC having raised objections, including not having been consulted.

Rahul Shewale, Sena corporator and chairman of the civic body's standing committee, in a letter to the Chief Minister dated May 27, said: “There should be a clarification on what [stands to be gained] from the development of sector five. The BMC is the planning authority for the Dharavi Rehabilitation Project [and owns 70 per cent of the land in the whole of Dharavi]. Despite this, the government has not consulted us on any matter. No thought has been given to the provision of amenities by the corporation.”

The MHADA, meanwhile, was off to a false start. The agency decided to conduct a fresh survey of the number of structures in sector five, which is among the least dense areas in Dharavi. This, activists fear, would only delay the project, judging by the experience in the years gone by. An earlier survey conducted by the Lahore-based non-profit organisation, Mashal, had put the number of structures in the sector at 9,289.

“It was decided that the MHADA should do the survey. It will be done on the basis of two cut-off dates for eligibility — years 1995 and 2000. The planning stage, for which an external agency will be appointed, has been started,” a government official said.

Sceptical

Raju Korde, head of the Dharavi Bachao Samiti, was sceptical about the project taking off, seeing the fresh call for redevelopment as an instance of mere dalliance, for political gains, on the part of the government.

“The original plan of February 4, 2004 [when the Dharavi project was started], does not even include the area that now forms sector five. It was added after we demanded it. And now the government has set aside the main plan and is focussing on this sector. It is one of the least dense sectors. This is just a political gimmick ahead of the BMC polls as the Dharavi issue has implications for the whole of Maharashtra,” he said.

Mr. Korde said much of the land in the area either was privately owned or fell under the hull of the BMC. State-owned transit camps and some land around a sewage treatment plant is what the government could use.

‘Not representative'

“A majority of the land belongs to the municipality. This sector five development is going to turn into a Congress versus Sena [battle],” said Jockin Arputham, president of the National Slum Dwellers' Federation (NSDF).

According to Mr. Arputham, the sector did not represent the real Dharavi. “If the government is planning to make this a model sector, shouldn't they have chosen dense areas? How can this be a model for development? We are still talking of surveys. If you call people and they queue up, is it a survey? No. You have to go from house to house.”

Mr. Arputham pointed out that there still was lack of a clear policy on eligibility. “Will it be structure by structure? Will it be for all the persons living in a structure? Looks like they just want to give a push-start in view of the BMC elections,” he said.

Asked about the political gains from the project in light of the civic polls, Varsha Gaikwad, State Minister and Congress MLA from the Dharavi constituency, told The Hindu, “This issue is of development, not politics. People try to stop work for various reasons. If we can give children in Dharavi the environment that children in [the posh] Malabar Hill have, people will support us. But I cannot link Dharavi and politics. The place is like home to me.”

Ms. Gaikwad said she was “very positive” about the redevelopment. “The Chief Minister has conducted many meetings. Soon, development of other sectors will also be discussed. We chose sector five because it's small and we have transit camps and more open space, thus making it more convenient. The people of Dharavi want development.”