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    Dharavi redevelopment: So close, yet so far

    infrastructure | IST

    Dharavi redevelopment: So close, yet so far

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    While Dubai-based Seclink Group is likely to be awarded the Rs 25,000 crore slum redevelopment contract, the obstacles that have kept developers away from the project for 15 years have still not been addressed.

    Successfully executing a slum redevelopment project in India is a balancing act that few developers have mastered - and even for them, India's biggest slum - Mumbai's Dharavi - is a daunting task.
    Spread over 2 square kilometers in the heart of Mumbai,  Dharavi's estimated population density is a staggering 8 lakh people per square mile, compared to the national average of 54,000.
    Home to an estimated million people and a significantly-sized industrial ecosystem driven by the sale of leather items, celebrated builder Niranjan Hiranandani is not wrong when he calls the area a city unto itself.
    The prospect of redeveloping Dharavi has attracted builders, academics and consultants from around the world - for success in this project would provide a template for slum redevelopment the world over - but the project has failed to take off for over 15 years, and not just because of its sheer size.
    The first big hurdle is the people. There isn't one accepted estimate of the number of people living in Dharavi, let alone an idea of how many of these people have legal ownership of their tenements.
    Dharavi's Wikipedia page says that a 2016 census estimates the population of the slum anywhere between 6 and 10 lakh, while other reports say that the slum houses 70,000 families.
    It is therefore difficult for developers to estimate how many units are to be built to house the existing population, before they can calculate what portion of the project they will be able to sell for profit.
    While the state government is pulling out all the stops to grant potential contractors as much Floor Space Index (the ratio of the size of the land to the amount of saleable area in the project), Dharavi's central location is more of a hindrance than a help here - its proximity to the airport means that there are strict restrictions on the permissible height of buildings in the area, which is another big question mark for potential builders.
    What's more, there are also issues over the proposed transit camp, or area where existing tenants will be shifted while work on the project is undertaken.
    While the state government has proposed that the salt pan lands of Wadala will be used as temporary houses for the inhabitants, this land is under the jurisdiction of the central government, and special permission would be required before any such plan is executed.
    There's also the issue of branding - Dharavi is an almost infamous name that Mumbaikars and indeed, Indians alike have come to associate with poverty and over-crowding. Would potential homebuyers in an already slowing real estate market pay top dollar for a Dharavi pin code?
    To add to all of these issues, the redevelopment of Dharavi has been used as a political plant in many state elections. It was one of the poll promises of current Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, and builders are wary that the latest attempt at getting the project off the ground has come in the run-up to the 2019 assembly elections.
    While Niranjan Hiranandani insists that since the gestation period of the project could be around 10 years, multiple elections and governments will come and go while the redevelopment continues, the risk-reward ratio for developers is more than slightly skewed - as made evident by their response to the latest tender floated by the state government.
    Dubai-based Seclink Group and Adani Realty were the only two participants in a process that saw multiple extensions of deadlines to attract a better response.
    Ultimately, with a bid of Rs 7,200 crore that will be used to set up a special purpose vehicle, Seclink Group has emerged as the likely contractor - but as they say, there's many a slip between the cup and the lip, and Dharavi is an extraordinarily big cup.
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