Residents of Dharavi oppose redevelopment plan

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GROWING RESENTMENT: Residents of Dharavi gather in front of the Maharashtra Slum Development Authority office in Mumbai protesting against the redevelopment plan of the Government.
GROWING RESENTMENT: Residents of Dharavi gather in front of the Maharashtra Slum Development Authority office in Mumbai protesting against the redevelopment plan of the Government.

Special Correspondent

People cutting across party lines and belonging to various communities take to the streets; call for boycotting Congress MP

MUMBAI: It was a protest characteristic of Dharavi: colourful, chaotic and enterprising. A sea of people holding black, red and saffron flags spilled out of the sprawling settlement this morning to oppose the proposed redevelopment plan of the area by the Maharashtra Government. The entire Dharavi shut down for a day in protest too as many small entrepreneurs and industrialists came out on the road along with hundreds of women and even children.

People cutting across party lines and belonging to various communities walked to the office of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) in Bandra East, which is the special planning authority for the Rs.9,300-crore Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP).

At one point the entire one-km stretch of the road near the Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s house, was packed with the protesters and their multicoloured flags.

The Dharavi Bachao Andolan, the All-Party Action Committee, the National Slum-Dwellers’ Federation and various other groups are demanding that the proposed project be modified and the people be allowed to decide how they want the place to be redeveloped. Members of the Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Samajwadi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the CPI (M) also took part.

The Government, which has invited Expression of Interest (EOI) globally for the DRP earlier this month, has planned to get private participation to build 57,000 houses for the Dharavi’s residents and has increased the floor space index to 4.0 in the area to give an incentive to real estate investors.

Raju Korade of the Andolan pointed out that no one was opposing development. “Everyone wants to stop taking a bucket and queuing up for the toilet outside, but the redevelopment has to benefit the local people not the real estate developers,” he said. People should get 400 sq.ft. houses instead of the 225 sq.ft. proposed, he demanded. A. Jockin of the National Slum-Dwellers’ Federation said that the Government has not explained the project to anyone. “We have come to challenge the Government and register our protest.”

The morcha ended at the SRA office where a public meeting was held. A set of demands was submitted to the officials.

Many speakers called for a boycott of the Congress MP from the area, Eknath Gaekwad, who was in favour of the project. BJP member Ramesh Joshi said development was a means of throwing people out of Dharavi. Residents of Dharavi are unhappy with this proposed plan specially since the Government did away with the mandatory 70 per cent consent clause for a slum rehabilitation project.

The place is home to about 4,902 industrial units, of which textiles, pottery, leather and plastic recycling form the bulk. About six-lakh people live here.

The new plan has no room for polluting industries and people like Vatsala Shinde, who makes papads at home to survive, are worried that smaller houses will leave no room for their work. “If we stop working who will give us food,” asked Vatsala, who has lived in Dharavi for 60 years.

Naushad Khan, who has been in the business of plastic recycling since 1975, said,“The problem is whatever area you have all the Government will give you is 225 sq.ft. We have to buy the extra land we need for our industries at our own cost,” says Khan, who is a Republic Party of India (Athavale) member. His shop is spread over 440 sq.ft.

Like him Nisar Ahmed Khan, who is also into plastic recycling, says he was in favour of stopping this polluting work. “We need some alternative jobs if the Government wants to stop polluting industries,” he said. The other major issue is that of workers — there are about 50,000 workers in these plastic and waste recycling units who are leaving the place due to the uncertain future.

Political parties too are voicing their increasing opposition to the DRP. The former Shiv Sena MLA, Baburao Mane, says, “We are not opposed to development but the Government is kicking us out of Dharavi and giving our land to the builder. Dharavi has its own economy and any development should keep people’s livelihoods intact,” he pointed out. The former Shiv Sainik, Ramkrishna Keni, points out that the State would also acquire private lands in Dharavi.

A member of the Koli community, which originally settled in Dharavi, Mr. Keni said that the Government should clarify its stand on private land. “My house is 3,000 sq.ft. — how can I live in 225 sq. ft,” he asked.

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