Resident-led Projects of Dharavi Koliwada

Resident-led Projects of Dharavi Koliwada

These projects have been re-developed by the residents in collaboration with local contractors and the urbz team

Map highlighting location of all the chawls
Map highlighting location of all the chawls


Chawls were initially constructed around 1900 when the British government fostered the establishment of textile mills by numerous businessmen. Most of the employees were from the coastal Konkan region, where they could not find enough economic opportunity, and now they were migrating to these mills for employment. Mill owners built 100-200 square foot homes for their workers to live near the mills where they worked. In response to this demand, numerous property owners built chawls to rent out to tenants. Later, as Mumbai expanded, chawls were constructed to house employees and their families.

These chawls included a large veranda and a spacious courtyard for outdoor activities. The square was a gathering place for the community at night, and its members enjoyed taking strolls there. The chawls were lively places to celebrate holidays like Ganpati, Dahi Handi, and Diwali. Due to a lack of financial resources, a pandal would be set up on the ground, and all ceremonies would occur there in the past. When there was a gathering, the women of the chawls would prepare the food together. It was a usual practice in these chawls to barter for sugar, milk, and other food items.

The chawls offer a vivacious atmosphere and strong community bond and are affordable amidst Mumbai's skyrocketing real estate prices. This is because of the Maharashtra Rent Control Act (MRCA), 1999, which fixed rentals at prevailing rates in the 1940s, making the maximum monthly rent for a dwelling in a chawl now Rs 250. The tenant pays a cess to the Maharashtra Repair Board in addition to the initial rent of around Rs 5 per month to cover the cost of chawl maintenance. The MRCA has kept rentals at historically low levels to protect tenants even if they fall behind on their payments. This model restricted landlords from requesting more than 15% annual rent increases.

Over the past few decades, many chawls have fallen into disrepair. The Chawl dwellers have pushed for their communities to be redeveloped, citing concerns over their families' safety inside the dilapidated buildings. From the government's perspective, chawls are an opportunity to provide low-cost housing by repairing the buildings and rehousing the current residents.

In this context, the residents of Dharavi Koliwada (a fishing village in the heart of the city) are coming together and initiating the redevelopment of the chawls themselves. The tenants, along with the owner of the chawl, have been occupying the chawls for many years and will pass them down to their descendants, who likewise occupy the same room in the chawl. 

Since it is tough for the residents and the owners to bear the construction cost, they collaborate with a local contractor. In a sort of barter transaction, the contractors build the new chawl in the exact location and configuration as the old one, as well as additional rooms that are subsequently rented out to recover the money spent on the chawl's construction. 

urbz has been working in Dharavi for over a decade. In collaboration with the architects and local contractors, the community has initiated several redevelopment projects in Dharavi Koliwada. This article takes a closer look at the context of each project. 

1 Vithal Bhaskar Chawl

The Vithal bhaskar chawl is centrally situated in Koliwada and is owned by two owners-Vithal and Bhaskar. It has three sides of small alleys and a large open area in the middle that serves as a courtyard. Densification of Koliwada over time led to the development of several side streets, each only 5 feet wide. Because of this, another chawl was built adjacent to the Vikthal bhakar chawl that caused problems with natural light and ventilation. The chawl has two owners, and the new construction has been designed to match the existing building's footprint to avoid disruption to the neighborhood.

2 Pasco Patil Chawl

Situated on the busy street of Dharavi called the Dharavi main road. It is in the best possible location in terms of accessibility. The chawl's prime location means that its façade is used for commercial purposes, while its residential units look out over a quaint green backyard or one of the lanes off to the side.

3 Jairam Sheth Chawl

The Jairam Sheth chawl, like the Pasco Patil chawl, occupies a prime spot in the heart of Koliwada. The chawl is surrounded on three sides by tiny lanes and has open space on one side. The open area next to the chawl is occupied by a lonely customs house and is underutilised. This historic customs building stands as a reminder of the expanse of the sea and its significance in the past. The occasional occurrence of sea bedrock on the bottom is further evidence that the Arabian Sea was previously here but has been reclaimed and driven away.

4 Dharavi- link road Chawl

Unlike the rest of the koliwada, the Dharavi Link Road chawl is quite compact and was built more recently. Because of its location on the outskirts of Koliwada, vehicular access to the chawl is restricted at this location on the Bandra-Sion Link Road.

5 Koli Jamaat Chawl

The Koli jamaat chawal, like the Pasco Patil chawl, can be reached by car due to their convenient location on Dharavi's main road. The chawl's layout places commercial establishments along the busy street frontage, while dwellings and common areas are situated along the quieter, rear side.