Frustrated by the Maharashtra government’s apathy towards the redevelopment of Dharavi, the residents of this vast, squalid slum are threatening to begin a Nandigram-like agitation if their demands are ignored.

Inspired by protest of leaderless farmers against the government’s forcible acquisition of land in Nandigram, West Bengal, against the Left government a few years back, Dharavi’s residents under the banner of Dharavi Bachao Andolan (Save Dharavi Movement) are all set to fight and wait no more. “It’s been eight years since the Congress-led government announced the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) and so far nothing has happened,” says Ramakant Gupta, Vice-President of the Andolan which is a conglomeration of all non-Congress parties.

Whilst the government came out with a blueprint that divided the 550-hectare slum, occupied by 1.4 million people, into five sectors, “we opposed the government’s intention to first redevelop sector 5 which had a lot of open spaces since we were concerned that the land could be gobbled up vested parties,” said Gupta. “Why cannot the government start the redevelopment in the order of sectors one to five?” he asks. But more importantly, their primary requirement is to be given accommodation of 400 sq ft and not 300 sq ft, “which ironically is the size of stables stipulated by a government policy for cattle.”

The government’s policy is not clear on the redevelopment, he complained, and that is why no one is coming forward to take up this mammoth project in an area that is worth a gold mine due to its ideal location within the metropolis. Of the 14 consortiums shortlisted in the initial days, 13 backed out due to delays and bureaucratic hassles and only one is left now. It certainly is a complex job to create a hi-tech city by transforming this neglected slum where families live in the most unhygienic conditions though the place thrives in indigenous industry and business of all kinds. But the initiative and ingenuity on the part of the government is completely missing in order to bring relief to its citizens.

Last week, a 40-member delegation of Dharavi residents led by a former Sena legislator Baburao Mane presented a memorandum containing various demands to Governor K Sankaranarayanan. With no decision in sight despite repeated representations to the government, they urged him to take up their issue so that a decent house of minimum 400 sq ft is provided and that the redevelopment be undertaken without affecting the livelihood of the people.

“The governor assured us he would discuss it with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan but so far there has been no positive response. We intend to meet opposition leaders Eknath Khadse and Vinod Tawde next week so that the redevelopment of Dharavi is taken up urgently,” said Gupta. If nothing materializes, the residents hope to start a series of protests until the government comes down to taking a decision.--end