DHARAVI AND THE AIRPORT SLUMS: Redeveloping Mumbai’s informal settlements
Given the severe shortage of formal housing in booming Mumbai, the State’s Slum Rehabilitation Act of 1995 allows private developers to build on slum land if they construct replacement apartments for those residents who have lived there since 1995 or 2000, depending on the area. Unfortunately, corruption is said to be widespread, since organized crime syndicates have been major players. Also, often many if not most residents have not been there long enough to qualify for new housing.
Conflicts over slum-clearance have been most notable in two areas. One is Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest informal settlement, depicted in the popular film “Slumdog Millionaire.” In fact, one BBC documentary about this district is titled "The Real Slumdogs." With a population of a million residents jammed in an area half the size of Central Park, Dharavi is also located on valuable real-estate. Since the introduction of the government’s Dharavi Development Plan in 2004, the government, developers, and community groups have negotiated over how to redevelop the area. While the area is area is poor, it has a strong sense of community and maintains one of the world’s biggest informal recycling operations.
The sector chosen for initial redevelopment has seen an improvement in sanitation – certainly significant, given the deaths that regularly occur during the monsoon floods – but critics claim that relocating residents has had a negative impact on the area’s dense, intricate socio-economic networks. The documentary by Kevin McCloud "Slumming It" (2010) argues that the creation of these vertical slums actually hinders families’ socioeconomic mobility and causes an increase in crime, pollution, and deterioration of dwellings. Furthermore, Jockin Arputham and Sheela Patel suggest “the government plans appear to be driven more by an intent to support commercial developments than to address the needs of their residents.”
Another area to be redeveloped lies beside the international airport, where about 85,000 households live on a 110-hectare (275 acres) site belonging to the national airport authority. Although residents living there before 1995 cannot be evicted without being provided with replacement housing, the private company that runs the airport wants all these households removed to allow for commercial expansion. Katharine Boo reported in 2012 that, so far, two-thirds of households whose huts were demolished could not prove residency long enough to qualify for rehousing. Those displaced then “crowded into other slums, or built new slums on the outskirts of the city” (p. 224).
Sources: K. Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House, 2012); Jockin Arputham and Sheela Patel, Recent developments in plans for Dharavi and for the airport slums in Mumbai, Environment and Urbanization 2010 22: 501-508.