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India Invites Global Bids to Rebuild Slum


In India, the government wants to give Asia's largest slum a makeover - and has invited Indian and foreign developers to participate in a huge slum resettlement project in the country's financial capital, Mumbai. But as Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, there is strong opposition to the plan.

Dharavi is not just a sprawling urban slum located in the heart of Mumbai, it is a long established community. Over the last 50 years, it has mushroomed over two square kilometers, attracting poor migrants from all over the country. Today, more than half a million people live and work in its narrow, dirty alleys.

The Maharashtra state government proposes to change all that, and recently placed newspaper advertisements in 20 countries inviting developers to rebuild Dharavi.

The plan is simple: the slum will be torn down. About 57,000 families living in ramshackle houses will be given tiny apartments of 225 square feet in high-rise blocks. The remaining swathes of land will be cleared for commercial and residential buildings.

The government says the $2.3 billion project will benefit everyone. Slum dwellers will get free, new housing with modern facilities and sanitation.

But the project has triggered suspicion and resistance from many slum dwellers. They say Dharavi is not just their home but also their workplace.

The head of the National Slum Dwellers Association, Jockin Arputham, is threatening massive protests. He says many people stand to lose their livelihood if the project is implemented.

"The government can't give employment. People have made their employment. 45 percent are self-employed in Dharavi, porters and fisheries colony. Therefore it is not rebuilding Dharavi, it is taking away the existing employment," said Arputham.

The government is trying to calm such fears. It says the project will also make room for industries, except polluting ones such as tanneries.

At the same time, prime land worth an estimated $10 billion will be freed up for development in a crowded city, where property prices are among the most expensive in the world.

However, opponents insist the project will mainly benefit developers. They are demanding more transparency and community involvement in the plan.

They point to hundreds of small manufacturing units that thrive in its alleys producing a range of goods such as pottery, plastics, and embroidered garments.

Over the years, Dharavi, has become a symbol of the haphazard urban growth in massive cities such as Mumbai, where millions of people live in slums. In Mumbai, more than half the city's population of 18 million lives in slums.

Often the inhabitants in these slums are not people mired in dire poverty, but people forced to stay there due to exorbitant real estate prices. Many cramped homes in Dharavi, for example, boast televisions and refrigerators.

High profile foreign visitors such as Britain's Prince Charles have stopped by Dharavi on their Indian tours to get an insight into the challenges of urban development in developing countries.

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