Dharavi SRA tenants on the Redevelopment project

Dharavi SRA tenants on the Redevelopment project

The announcement of the Dharavi Redevelopment Project brings unanswered questions with it. To gain insight into the housing rehabilitation process, we spoke to Suryakant and Mohammed, whose homes were rehabilitated by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) some years ago. 

‘Everybody wants development’, says Suryakant, when asked about his take on the redevelopment of Dharavi, while his friend, Mohammed, expressed his anticipation. They are both residents of Dharavi who were moved to another location due to a redevelopment project by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) and then relocated into the newly constructed building. 

Suryakant was born in Dharavi and has been living here since. After running a successful manufacturing business for years, he had a spiritual awakening that inspired him to pursue the ascetic life. Mohammed moved to Dharavi from Uttar Pradesh in 1967 in search of a better life. After doing odd jobs for years, he finally became an electrician. 

There has been an ongoing dialogue about Dharavi’s uncertain future since the announcement of its redevelopment taken up by the Adani group. While the residents are very excited by the idea of having "private toilets”, “more square feet to themselves”, “better air and light”, they fear for their jobs and communities due to the lack of communication from the developers.

Dharavi is a self-sufficient and well-oiled machine, housing various economies that fuel it. There are areas dedicated to different industries packed with efficient tool-houses. These multi-functional spaces enable the accommodation of people’s lives and work, with their shops or factories on the ground and their homes above - creating typologies that are low-rise and have high density while optimising the use of space. The businesses and manufacturers in these structures contribute to the circulation of objects worldwide, from leather goods to pottery. A large percentage of Mumbai’s products live a circular life, birthed and buried in Dharavi since 80% of the city’s plastic waste is also recycled here. The material future of this megacity is heavily interlinked with that of Dharavi.

Adani’s public statement lightly mentions that there will be “provisions for shops and businesses”, but does not go into further detail.  What will happen to these sophisticated systems that are essential for the ecosystem of the city? Where will their factories go after the destruction of their tool-houses? Will people have to spend money on rent for commercial spaces? ‘We don’t even make enough money to afford our current monthly maintenance, what will we do once it increases?’ questions Mohammed. There are apprehensions about the costs of living.


Moreover, the annual property taxes for redeveloped projects are directly proportionate with the floor of the building people are placed on, forcing some to sell these houses and relocate – pushing them towards the living conditions they were trying to escape and taking away what actually helped them thrive: their community. 

Then comes the question of legitimacy. Documentation is of high importance in this new economy of sturdy bureaucracy that the government is trying to create. The tender conditions proposed are based on dated and inaccurate surveys. They excluded those living on rent and those living on the upper floors. The ground-floor residents were only counted if they had documented proof of residence before the year 1995. ‘It is tough for us to have documentation and work in legitimate ways’, says Mohammed. His father settled on a small piece of land in Dharavi and passed it on to the next generation. Mohammed and his brothers built a three-storey building there to house their families. After displacing them for redevelopment, the SRA allotted one 225 sq ft apartment for the 3 families as only his father’s residence was documented through the bills in the past. They now divide this among them, using a curtain as a partition between their spaces. This 225 sq ft houses 12-15 people. This is one family’s situation that was part of one redevelopment project. The scale of the current one is much larger. Adani group will be confronted with a complex web of unique obstacles that bureaucratic procedures don’t necessarily account for. This is creating a looming presence of impending doom amongst people living in precarious realities.  

In his statement, Gautam Adani calls it a ‘human-centric’ project. The anxieties and concerns of the humans on the ground oppose the rose-tinted picture he is creating of it. Despite this, there is unwavering faith in him delivering well. ‘If anyone can pull this off, it is Adani,’ says a beaming Suryakant, ‘his political and financial reach give us deep confidence in him’. ‘But why is no one asking us what we want?’, contends Mohammed with distressed eyes. 

This project is “the world’s largest urban renewal scheme” according to SVR Srinivas, the CEO of the Dharavi Redevelopment Project, a government enterprise. It promises better futures without any clear information about how exactly. All of this raises vital questions – who is this development truly being done for? Is it for elite Mumbai, which likes the look of a clean city? Or for the developers, trying to make more money for themselves? What kind of a city are we trying to create? What is being lost? 

‘I just want everyone to prosper, I just want everyone to be together and live in harmony, we rise and fall with each other,’ says old and wise Bhau, who has been living in Dharavi for decades. Every conversation has ended with people being proud of where they come from, and the brotherhood that they share. The identity and fate of the people and their place is an entangled hodgepodge of processes that rely heavily on each other, so much so that you can barely tell whether it is the people building the place or the place building the people.

Bhau in the blue shirt, suave as alwaysBhau in the blue shirt, suave as always

Let us honour the people instead of this image of a “world-class city” that we have so painstakingly been chasing through top-down urban planning and architectural design. Ignoring the creators could lead to the destruction of one of the most indispensable pillars of Mumbai. 

Yes, Everyone Wants Development. But ultimately, who is prospering because of it?