Saturday, September 05, 2009

A reprieve for Dharavi


(Column posted on InfoChange India News&Features)

Urban planners have proposed alternative approaches to Dharavi’s redevelopment, which would view Dharavi as a thriving and functioning urban settlement and not as a slum that needs to be flattened and rebuilt. The October assembly elections may just have given Dharavi the breathing space required to discuss these alternatives, writes Kalpana Sharma

For months it appeared as if nothing could stop progress on the massive Rs 15,000 crore Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP). Everything was finalised. Only the final bids had to be confirmed. Suddenly, with the announcement of state assembly elections in Maharashtra scheduled for October 13, the project has come to a grinding halt. With the electoral code of conduct in place, the state government cannot initiate any projects. For many people in Dharavi, this comes as a huge relief.

The history of the project, mired in controversy from the start, is a story of how such redevelopment should not be done. It all began when a developer, who already had a couple of projects in Dharavi through the existing Slum Rehabilitation Scheme (SRS) of the Maharashtra government, noticed the potential of developing the entire area. Its location next to the Bandra Kurla complex, where land prices were going through the roof, made it even more attractive. Mukesh Mehta of MM Consultants outlined a plan to develop all of Dharavi in 2003. He divided the area into 10 sectors and proposed that each sector should be handed over to a developer through open bidding.

Mehta successfully sold the idea to the then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the centre led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The Maharashtra government responded by following up on Mehta’s proposal, appointed him initially as an adviser and eventually as the consultant for the Dharavi Redevelopment Project.

In the course of time, the original 10 sectors got collapsed into five, a separate authority was created to oversee the project and the government set about finding ways to give special incentives to attract private developers to take on the project. One of these was to increase the FSI (Floor Space Index) from the current 1.33 to 4 and allowing developers to use all the additional FSI in Dharavi itself rather than converting it into TDR (Transfer of Development Rights) to be used in other projects elsewhere in the city.

In the initial years, the project was estimated to cost Rs 9,300 crore. Today it is valued at Rs 15,000 crore. The delay has helped increase profit margins as land prices have steadily gone upwards, by 30 to 40%, although there was a slight dip in the last year. But between the date the project was initiated and the present day, there has been a notable increase in land prices. All of this benefits developers who are aiming to win bids to develop one of the five sectors.

Also in the interim, to pacify Dharavi residents who have argued that their existing spaces are considerably larger than the 225 sq ft apartments promised free to them under the DRP, the government agreed as a special case to increase the size of each apartment to nearly 300 sq ft. For this the relevant Development Control Rule (DCR) needed to be amended.

The project has inched forward, with the government inviting bids, shortlisting 14 possible developers and promising that by July 30 the final bids would be announced. Inexplicably, on that day, the entire process ground to a halt. The government claimed it had not yet amended the DCR to accommodate the bigger apartments for Dharavi’s residents. Hence the bidding process could not go through. In fact, this was a mere technicality. The thought of the impending elections, and having to face the ire of disgruntled residents in Dharavi, was probably a much bigger reason for postponing the final phase of getting the project underway. Now, with the election code of conduct, this government cannot take any more steps and the project will have to be revisited, or revived, by the new government that takes office at the end of October.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

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