Sunday, 10 February 2008

Proposed Rehabilitation of Dharavi Slums, Mumbai

Proposed Rehabilitation of Dharavi Slums, Mumbai

by Remigius de Souza

The Living Chronicle of India’s Development
Ironically the great Dharavi slum at Mumbai is also the living chronicle of the history of India’s Development. Dharavi slum has been there when the city was called Bombay; it was on the periphery of the island city. Now it is in the centre, on the prime land, which the First World is eying takeover.
Predictable Stereotypes
This refers to the report on proposed rehabilitation project for Dharavi slums (Hindustan Times, Mumbai ed. 7 February 2008, p. 1 & 6). Assessment of this exercise could be summarised in one sentence:
“What if you give a pauper a designer three piece suit / a designer saree or dress, made of material and assembled in the West?” We all know the answer that is in the question itself. When the means and goals are not one the failure is imminent (e.g. Soviet Russia). O, Give them the fishing hook, not fish.

Again I quote Henry David Thoreau, with adaptation to Indian conditions, “give a beggar (poor or rich) a hundred rupee note or 100 million rupees, he will buy a few more rags”. Have a comprehensive look at Mumbai, or even India, and you will notice an old quilt with patches of these rich rags stitched on it.

Consider yet another assessment in just three (+two) words: it’s a fantasmic (boundless labyrinth) Kafka’s Castle!

Planning as if People matter
The First Look: the architect has planted people and plants on the elevated walkways, away from the ground – soil. This is reversal of natural priority of both, the people and plants.
The statement shows numbers – money, areas, families – but no mention of demographic studies of the existing settlement; no mention of ‘environmental impact assessment’ of existing and proposed situations.

As we know, the people here are self-reliant and self-supporting: all that they need is water, sanitation, health care services and education. The project denies them their autonomy wholesale. At least 20-30 percent people – unskilled, semiskilled and skilled – residing here as well as at other slums, are engaged in production of building materials and construction, which has shaped the First World Mumbai. What did the policymakers learn from them so far?

The architect is another functionary from the Castle. The curricula of architecture and planning education have no place for “community participation”, which is a great ancient tradition. Hence how could they go for “user participation”, unless of course the West starts it? This is despite the thousands of temples and mosques in India the artisans had a free hand to do the details at their will, so if you see every wall panel, every column are varied though they look as part of the whole schema.

Mumbai’s 50-60 percent (5-7 millions) slum dwellers, so also those at other places, are displaced people – peasants. This is fallout of the great Indian development craze of the First World India to copy after the Western model. Now they target the slums in the cities to displace them to nowhere!

The sixteen names mentioned do not add to the credibility of the project, and are irrelevant. They are only tourists sponsored by the office.

The great land grab continues

The hidden agenda of the project is to displace the poor beneficiaries(sic) to the square one, as the history shows. The capitalist corporate society eventually shall hijack the project (in the game of many a snake and one ladder), by both design and default. After the special economic zone (SEZ) now the First World India has targeted prime land in Mumbai. This is another realty bazaar to plough back investment made in the name of the poor.
The Last Word: People’s Primary Concerns First
House is where the home is. The home grows so the town, the city, the country. Thankfully our biological father is/was not an impotent and our biological mother is/was not a barren that could fulfil the nature’s function of procreation, birth, growth, sustenance and death. The proposed township at Dharavi is an end product; as soon as it materialises, begins its decay to leave behind debris, effluence, and its residue. It is not designed for growth of the inhabitants of Dharavi slums. Agency is faceless entity; it has no posterity. Ironically Dharavi is also the living chronicle of the history of India’s Development.
  1. The words in italic above: I owe them to Milan Kondura (‘The Art of the Novel’, Faber & Faber, p. 113).
  2. The images: I owe them to Hindustan Times (07-02-2008). For more images you may log on Hindstan Times epaper.
Remigius de Souza


© Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

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