Mumbai: Residents of Asia’s most famous slum fear a multi-billion-dollar plan to transform the area into a Singapore-like enclave featuring luxury skyscrapers and shopping malls will destroy its vast informal economy.
Indian authorities have asked a developer to tear down and rebuild Dharavi, a bustling settlement in Mumbai known as the backdrop for Danny Boyle’s hit 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire.
Supporters say the project will uplift hundreds of thousands of lives, but critics claim it will destroy Dharavi’s social fabric and accuse officials of pandering to property developers.
“Dharavi is the beating heart of Mumbai. The government wants to grab it,” says liquid soap manufacturer Ashraf Sheikh who recently went on an eight-day hunger strike over the redevelopment.
Dharavi is one of Asia’s biggest slums. Estimates vary but between 700,000 and one million people crammed into tiny homes on the 520ha site; hundreds queue up to use public washrooms.
But the area defies most Western notions of a slum; Dharavi is a hive of economic activity and boasts an estimated annual turnover of more than a billion dollars.
Industries include pottery, leather and textiles – about 5,000 businesses operate from around 15,000 one-room workshops, according to estimates.
Masses of rubbish are also separated there for recycling.
Mumbai officials first tried to redevelop Dharavi two decades ago.
Several attempts failed due to the difficulty of moving vast numbers of slum dwellers who depend on informal work to survive.
“We have been living and working here for over 100 years. You’ll have to shoot us before building your towers here,” says potter Mepa Gudiya, who exports earthenware across India and abroad. — AFP