In Mumbai, Dharavi’s thriving informal economy defies the label
Malik Abdullah’s plastic recycling business in Dharavi, the sprawling slum in Mumbai that is among the largest in Asia, has survived fire, building collapses, and the criminal underworld for decades. Now, it is threatened by development.
For 35 years, Abdullah has carried on the business built by his father, pulverizing used plastic cans and bottles into pellets, then selling them to factories to refashion. Thousands of small businesses like his thrive in Dharavi, creating an informal economy with an annual turnover of $1 billion by some estimates.
Now, plans to replace the ramshackle workshops and decrepit homes with office blocks and high-rise apartments threaten the businesses that employ thousands of its 1 million residents.
“The city doesn’t care about the businesses here, which are our livelihood,” said Abdullah, 52, standing in an alley crammed with towering stacks of plastic containers. “This is where we live, this is where we work. Where will we go if they only build flats and offices?” he said.
During the past two decades, there have been several attempts to develop Dharavi, which sprawls over 240 hectares (590 acres). However, residents have opposed many of them, saying they do not consider their interests. Real estate in Mumbai, India’s financial hub, is among the most expensive in the world. The contrast between rich and poor is stark, and about 60 percent of the city’s population of more than 18 million lives in slums.
Dharavi has always been a magnet for migrants from across India. Many have lived there for decades, their one-room tenements and low-rise homes dwarfed by the gleaming glass and chrome office towers and luxury hotels that dot the city.
Amid Dharavi’s narrow alleys, open drains and canopies of electric cables, migrants who came in search of better economic opportunities have created a community of schools, temples, mosques, restaurants, tailors and mobile phone shops.
Tens of thousands work as potters, leather tanners, weavers, soap makers, and in Dharavi’s massive recycling industry. Most homes double up as work spaces, the whirr of sewing machines, the clang of metal and the pungent odor of spices mingling with the call for prayer and the putrid smell of trash.
“People think of slums as places of static despair as depicted in films such as ‘Slumdog Millionaire’,” said Sanjeev Sanyal, an economist and writer, referring to the Academy Award-winning movie that exposed the gritty underbelly of Dharavi.
“If one looks past the open drains and plastic sheets, one will see that slums are ecosystems buzzing with activity... Creating neat low-income housing estates will not work unless they allow for many of the messy economic and social activities that thrive in slums,” he said.
Once a small fishing village, Dharavi was notorious as a den of crime in the 1970s and ‘80s. Following a massive crackdown, violent crime is rare and Dharavi has featured in movies, art projects and a Harvard Business School case study. Fed by two suburban railway lines and perilously close to the Mumbai airport, Dharavi has lured developers, too.
Recent plans by city officials envisaged private developers clearing the area and building high-rise flats in which each eligible family gets a free 225 sq ft (21 sq metres) unit. The developer in turn gets rights to build commercial space to rent. — Reuters
DUBLIN: Irish Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, (center) arrives at government buildings in Dublin, Ireland yesterday before announcing the 2017 budget. — AFP
MUMBAI: Sprawling over 240 hectares (590 acres), Dharavi one of Asia’s largest slums, has always been a magnet for migrants from across India.