The rich have new toys: it’s poverty and slums. Gautam Adani – a blessing or a curse for Dharavi?

Luc Williams

Big money makes some of its owners feel empty and bored, which encourages them to take on various exciting challenges. Some throw themselves on long-sunken ships, others find the social spirit in themselves and decide to do something good for the world. Gautam Adani is one of the latter. Jessie Yeung writes for CNN about his idea for the Dvaravi slums and whether their residents should be happy about it.

Slums are not exactly heaven on earth

I’m sure you know it. Dharavi – if not because of the careful study of Indian culture and history, then because it was the setting for the famous 2008 film “Slumdog Millionaire”. As Yeung writes, these huge slums it is a tangle of streets, where on every corner we can find the proud headquarters of some micro-business: a bakery, a shoemaker’s workshop or a hairdresser’s. These small businesses spread across 500 acres of Dharavi generate a combined turnover of over a billion dollars a year. It is a key source of income for many families who have lived in the slum for generations. These people, as the CNN journalist writes, are worried that Gautam Adani will make them unable to live.

Of course, slums are not exactly heaven on earth. They struggle with many problems, the most severe of which are overcrowding and terrible sanitary conditions. Lack of access to running water results in diseases, deadly dust rises from poorly ventilated rooms, and unhealthy smoke from some workshops. Over the decades, attempts have been made to redevelop this area, but because all of them were politically entangled, nothing came of it.

Dharavi slums are not paradise on earth / ShutterStock

Meanwhile, with his bouquet of ideas, he stood at the gates of Dharavi Gautam Adani. A native Indian, but with his compatriots living in the slums he has little in common, but a lot, at least in terms of his wallet – with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Adani is in the top tier of the richest people in the world. In 2022, his company won the tender for the redevelopment of Dharavi. “We want to create a Dharavi full of dignity, integration and safety,” Adani proclaimed in lofty words at the time.

It sounds promising, but Dharavi residents sensed a hint of menace in the talk about turning the slum into a “state-of-the-art, world-class city for the 21st century.” Adani, however, does not shy away from nationalist motivations, maintaining that once it is done with the slums, they will “reflect a resurgent, confident and developing India.” Some residents greeted the announcement with enthusiasm, while others took to the streets to protest. Small business owners fear gentrification of their existing business space, being pushed out to other areas, losing customers and income.

Dharavi is Bombay in a nutshell

The area of ​​today’s Dvaravi used to be a swamp on the outskirts of Bombay. For over a century, however, migrants have been arriving from all over India, gradually transforming the area into a vibrant place. Because the area was not subject to top-down regulations, the development that has arisen there is random and grassroots. In the 1970s, the Indian government took a closer look at the area – roads, sewage, water supply, toilets and taps were built, and electricity was also brought in. Despite this, the character of Dvaravi has not changed, and it was defined in the 19th century by potters from Gujarat, who began to settle here, and later by tanners from Tamil Nadu and embroiderers from Uttar Pradesh. As Yeung writes, the development of the slums is the development of the whole of Bombay in a nutshell, and it is an extraordinary city, where people from all over India come looking for happiness, work and a career in Bollywood.

After the 1970s renovations, Indian governments searched unsuccessfully for someone to rebuild the slums from top to bottom. As Lalitha Kamath, an expert in urban planning and policy at the Tata Institute, says, “any reconstruction of such an area is extremely complicated.” And let alone a complete overhaul of the record-breaking slum. Which residents should be relocated, and where? How should the owners of small businesses be compensated, and who would be entitled to such compensation? These are just some of the extremely complicated questions that need to be answered.

Dharavi slums are Mumbai in a nutshell / Bloomberg / Dhiraj Singh

Dharavi’s situation is doubly complicated. It is surrounded by upscale business districts, is relatively close to the airport, has a huge population and is worth a fortune. After years of failed bids and stalled decisions, Adani’s company has finally won the right to redevelop the land for 50 billion rupees ($612 million). It will be one of the life’s work of Adani Enterprises, which already supplies electricity to Mumbai. The redevelopment is expected to take seven years.

The owner of the company promises a lot. A million people want to be relocated to better homes. Buildings, both residential and commercial, are to be rebuilt. Residents are to be given better healthcare, efficient recreational infrastructure, a hospital, a school and more. People who do not qualify for a new apartment from Gautam Adani are to be provided with other, also attractive, relocation options.

Who gets free housing?

As mentioned, some residents have welcomed these plans with enthusiasm, while others have welcomed them less. There are those who do not believe in any reconstruction at all and suspect a complex political game being played at their expense. Others, primarily entrepreneurs, are worried about how these changes will affect their income. A spokesman for Dharavi Redevelopment Project Private Ltd (DRPPL), the team that is to handle this investment, assures that these issues are being carefully analyzed. In an interview with CNN, he mentions actions that are to be taken to help these people, including consolidating supply chains, providing all companies with tax refunds for the next five years and launching programs to professionally activate women and youth.

However, what the people living in Dharavi are most interested in is the answer to the question: who will get a free apartment? DRPPL assures that it will be available to all ground floor residents who moved to the area before 2000. They are to get a flat with an area of ​​at least 32 square meters.

Dharavi. Residents wonder who will get free housing / ShutterStock

Residents of the upper floors and those who moved into the slums between 2000 and 2011 will be given a flat of at least 28 square metres (300 square feet) within 10 kilometres (6 miles) of Dharavi after paying a one-time fee of 250,000 rupees ($3,000). Those who moved in after 2011 will also be given a flat, but will have to pay government rent. DRPPL says all the flats will have separate bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms.

It sounds wonderful, and when we add that DRPPL representatives are now driving around Dharavi from house to house and asking residents about their needs, it even becomes idyllic. However, the mood may be spoiled by the information that many people live in the slums who do not qualify for free housing and will not be able to meet Adani’s conditions to get one of these “almost for free”. And some of those who qualify do not have the appropriate documents to confirm this. That is why many residents are protesting, led by, for example, opposition politician Baburao Mane, who himself comes from the slums. In December, a demonstration of thousands of people picketed in front of Adani’s headquarters. Mane claims that only 5 percent of Dharavi’s population has the documents required by the company.

Residents usually don’t have much to say

Even though Adani is Indian himself, he doesn’t seem to understand the culture and lifestyle of his fellow countrymen in the slums. As Yeung writes, all the houses in Dharavi are two or three stories high, often inhabited by multi-generational families with a dozen or more members. Squeezing 15 people into 30 square meters, who until now could fit on three floors, seems like a mediocre idea, to say the least. That’s why the protesters, led by Mane, demanded in one of their demands that the apartments offered by the company should be at least 46 square meters.

Dharavi: Slum dwellers usually have the least say in planned redevelopment / Bloomberg / Dhiraj Singh

Despite all these concerns, the residents of Dharavi agree that their living space is in dire need of change. In conversations with the journalist, they say that they do not want their children to grow up in the current, deplorable conditions. Yeung, on the other hand, writes with hope that Adani has so far been known for successful investments, which are the most ambitious Indian infrastructure projects. These include airports, ports and thermal power, which it operates in its country. However, as the journalist points out, it has had little to do with rebuilding slums and building cheap housing.

There are other concerns, too. For example, the investigation that took place in 2023 into the Adani Group in response to reports of fraud. The company suffered a stock market crash then, losing more than $100 billion in value. Ultimately, India’s highest court ordered the investigation to be quickly wrapped up in January 2024, the company celebrated, and the case remained unsolved. Dharavi residents also complain about opaque communication from DRPPL, a lack of information about meetings, schedules, and project details. Kamath commented glumly that this is normal in slum redevelopment—residents usually don’t have much say.

Perhaps things will change in the end: According to Reuters, a competitor to Adani has filed a lawsuit against the government of Maharashtra state, where the slum is located, alleging that a 2018 tender to redevelop Dharavi was wrongly cancelled and reopened just so Adani could win it. Adani and the government deny this, and residents have little hope. Reshma Prasant Bobde, a housewife from Dharavi, said: “The discussion about redeveloping it has been going on since my grandmother’s time. I have children aged 7 and 11; they will grow old, but nothing will change here.”


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