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Transformation of Dharavi a colossal challenge: Gautam Adani

While I have no preconceived notions about redeveloping Dharavi, what I do have are good intent and an iron will for a human-centric transformation with the people of Dharavi at its centre.

My first tryst with Dharavi was in the late 1970s. New to Mumbai, I was just another youngster lured to the big city by opportunity and my own optimism that I would sparkle in the diamond trade. Even back then, Dharavi was a melting pot of a diverse array of beliefs, cultures and languages from every part of India. I was mesmerized by the industrious chaos that I saw in Dharavi’s alleys, where just about every Indian language seemed to echo with equal urgency. But there was order in that chaos, seemingly provided by the soul of Dharavi. I could never define it but felt it very strongly.

That visit to Dharavi was both humbling and disturbing. The community’s struggle for survival, laced with equanimity and happiness, inspired me. Against this backdrop, when this opportunity to renew Dharavi came calling, I seized it with both hands. I eagerly wanted to do it as it had a huge personal connect with my first impression of Mumbai. Perhaps, it was because of this overzealousness that our bid was 2.5 times the next highest.

As we embark on this completely uncharted journey, I am aware of the colossal challenges ahead. Dharavi is a unique project in a league of its own for three reasons:

First, it is one of the world’s largest urban resettlement and regeneration projects. Approximately a million people will be rehabilitated and resettled.

Secondly, rehabilitation entails the resettlement of not only the residential units but also of diverse establishments of various sizes and scales dealing with trading, shopping and other business transactions. The entire ecosphere and business fabric of diverse and distinct trades thriving in Dharavi will be rehabilitated and rehoused.

Thirdly, the project will aim for comprehensive and holistic redevelopment as it caters to the housing and rehabilitation needs of both eligible and ineligible residents.

While I have no fixed ideas or preconceived notions about redeveloping Dharavi, what I do have are good intent and an iron will for a human-centric transformation with the people of Dharavi at its centre. It will be a bottom-up project reflecting their views and sentiments to the maximum extent possible. We will create an institutionalized mechanism to capture the sentiments of not only the people of Dharavi but also of the finest brains and each and every caring Mumbaikar, who are equal stakeholders in this journey of transforming Dharavi. The new Dharavi will reflect the quintessential character of Mumbai without losing the timeless essence of the old Dharavi.

It is also my personal commitment that the only move the eligible residents of Dharavi will make will be to their new homes. Not only will they see their homes being constructed in front of their eyes but they will also have a say in shaping it. What their homes do not have now, we will provide – gas, water, electricity, sanitation and drainage, healthcare and recreational facilities, and open spaces. They will also have access to a world-class hospital and a school.

Apart from resettlement, livelihood is a big challenge. I intend to transform Dharavi into a modern city hub by looking at ways and means to support and strengthen existing microenterprises and small industries and by promoting new age jobs with a special focus on youth and women. This will be achieved using a multi-pronged strategy with the help of sectoral experts and civil society.

It could be a combination of training centres focused on upskilling, common facility centres for product-based as well as service-based entrepreneurship models, R&D centres, data centres, MSME helpdesks, etc. Another important element could be the creation of organised and systemic marketplaces in line with the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC).

The effort to transform Dharavi is not new but has a long history of nearly half a century. This time, some smart changes in the tender design based on earlier learnings ensured bidders’ participation and its successful completion. For example, this tender catered to the rehabilitation of ineligible tenants. Further, the inclusion of 45 acre of railway land adjacent to Dharavi facilitates in-situ resettlement and day-zero project commencement.

My team and I are aware that the design and implementation of the Dharavi project are challenges monumental in both scale and dimensions. We are also aware that the project will test our resilience, our capability and our execution skills to their limits. I am confident that, with the support of all stakeholders, we shall create history and make Dharavi, Mumbai and India proud.

Gautam Adani
(The author is Chairman of the Adani Group.)

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