In Mum­bai, Dhar­avi’s thriv­ing in­for­mal econ­omy de­fies the la­bel

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

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.

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