Dharavi, widely known as Asia’s largest slum, is home to more than a million people and characterized by its prime location in the middle of India’s commercial and financial capital of Mumbai. With significant government and market pressure to develop into a world-class city, and increasing population growth continuing to limit housing opportunities, the fate of Dharavi has become a highly contested and politicized issue (Boano, Lamarca & Hunter 2011). In light of this pressing problem, this essay will provide an overview and description of Dharavi, an outline of the key housing issues and challenges that the government and stakeholders face, and an analysis of housing policy initiatives.
Overview of the city’s/neighborhoods general characteristics
Dharavi is situated on prime real estate in the heart of Mumbai, encompassing almost 293 hectares and housing between 700,000 and 1.2 million residents (Chatterji 2005, p. 198; Sharma 2000). From a distance, a view of Mumbai city exposes the very stark divide between the rich and abject poor; decrepit informal huts made of mud, brick, asbestos and garbage (Desai 1988, p. 71), set against a backdrop of modern million dollar skyscrapers (figure 1). Contrary to this depiction though, Dharavi also stands out for its lively and prosperous informal economy in small-scale industry, handicrafts and recycling (SPARC 2010); that employs over 80% of Dharavi’s residents and produces an annual turnover of over $500 million a year (BUDD 2009; The Economist 2005, p. 43). As a slum, Dharavi is therefore unique in the fact that it is characterized as both a residential and industrial area, a feature that has greatly influenced both the tolerance and encouragement of its existence (Sharma 2000) .
Key Housing Issues and Challenges: Quality of life & slum-dwellers’ rights
Of the estimated 15 million people living in Mumbai, a total of 60% live in slums such as Dharavi (Pacione 2006, p. 237). A large reason behind the proliferation of these slum areas is the high cost of rent, lack of affordable housing, increasing population, and rising land scarcity (Boano, Lamarca & Hunter 2011; Pacione 2006). What is proving most challenging though is that despite the excessive number of slum dwellers with no alternative housing options, little is being done to improve the infrastructure of the slums they live in. As such, the quality of life for those living in Mumbai slums is a key housing issue. No example better depicts urban blight at its worse then Mumbai’s largest: Dharavi.
Although the 1970’s and 80’s saw policies that helped improve amenity provisions such as water and sanitation in Mumbai slums, policies from the 1990’s onwards embraced the conditions of global neoliberalism; which saw a retraction of the welfare state and a subsequent sharp decline in slums standards of living (BUDD p. 20). At the very least, Dharavi residents suffer from inadequate water supplies, unsanitary and insufficient bathroom facilities,...