The absence of housing for urban poor is the root of the emergence of a place like Dharavi. If the State and industry, which have fuelled the growth of Mumbai, had planned adequately for low-cost housing for migrant workers, some of the present crisis that the city faces would have been averted. Instead, the government’s policy has been incremental and ad hoc. When pushed to the wall, some schemes are put in place, implemented halfheartedly, and abandoned at the first obstacle.
The problem with this approach is magnified today, given the sheer number of the urban poor. They are a crucial vote-bank. No political party can afford to ignore them. Thus, successive governments devise schemes to keep them happy, temporarily. But the long-term issue of affordable housing for the poor is rarely tackled. The result of such an approach is evident in a place like Dharavi, which is pock-marked with the debris of incomplete development schemes.
A place like Dharavi poses several difficult challenges for the government: should it be left alone, developed or pulled down and redeveloped? Should the State recognize its ‘industrial’ nature and provide it with facilities that will, at the very least, make working conditions for thousands of workers safer and cleaner? Or will doing that kill these enterprises? There are no easy, or obvious, answers.
This website attempts to present another reality of our cities, one that we have to comprehend before solutions can be found. Without such an understanding, even the most well-intentioned efforts prove to be unworkable.
(Source: Compiled from Kalpana Sharma’s book ‘Rediscovering Dharavi’, Penguin Books, 2000))