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Dharavi: The Existence of the Exposed Folks

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

The land of slums are always precincts of absolute policy negligence. The so-called policies adopted in order to bring reform and restructure the socio-economic conditions of the living population continuously and relentlessly mis-carried when it reach at its implementation level. The different issues ranging from health on one-side to wealth on the other side is getting bigger and worsens the existing glitches to a threat of optimal complications. Here we will have a look at the socio-economic life of slums with special reference to Asia’s largest slum – ‘Dharavi’. The analysis includes the identification of major economic and social obstacles and its effect on the lives of the ordinary folks. The intention behind the analysis is to show the actual need of an immediate response from the side of the responsible authorities so as to reduce the effort of a need of a ‘Big Push’ if the problems continues to accumulate and aggravate.

Orangi, Ashaiman, Liberatador, Soweto etc. the name seems to be very strange for most of us. But a place in suburban Mumbai, which shares a land area of about 550 acres and population of nearly 1 million called as Dharavi, the largest Slum in Asia is not a new story for most of us. Similar to this, the above said are some of the largest slums of the so-called developing countries across the world which stand still as the paradoxical models of development. Slums epitomize a major obstacle in the course of action for developing economies in the twenty-first century. As per the study of UN-Habitat (2012) it is estimated that, the increasing rate of immigration to the existing slum population would require about 450 million new housing units in the upcoming 2 decades just to lodge the urgent and needy households. The multiplicity of market and policy failures, critical co-ordination and governance problems that hampers investment and issues related with human capital tends to keep the life and struggle of the slum dwellers in the vicious circle of poverty from time to time. Therefor the present-day slums throw up a question of different kind and as it should be answered through fiscal side measures rather than allowing the principle of a free market economy. Here we will have a laconic overview on the life and economic prospects of one of the largest slums in the world and the Asia largest slum-Dharavi.

About 7 decades ago, the land of Dharavi was a dense forest and later the fisherman community became the initial settlers. There were no taxes and lands were free to live, this initiates the process of settlement in the suburban portion of the City of Dreams. The living population started escalating from time to time due to different sort of push factors of migration. As per the study of Habitat for Humanity-UK., about 70,000 families with a total population of nearly one million harmoniously sharing approximately 550 acres of land. The main economic activities in which the working force engaged includes; Leather industry, pottery, recycling and textile industry and the average turnover estimated is between US $650 to US $1 billion per year. This is an aggregate contribution of about 5000 small and marginal business in all. One of the key industries in Dharavi is its own Leather industry which produce fair and reasonable priced leather products with the brand name of ‘Dharavi’. The most inspiring and blissful fact is that the economy of Dharavi comprises of global exports to the markets of US, Europe and some of the Middle Eastern countries. One other factor which widens the economic contribution from Dharavi is the pace of community formation which occurred from year to year. For example, there was immigration of pottery makers from Gujarat, tanners from different parts of Uttar Pradesh et Later the housing societies for livelihood created under the leadership of M.V. Duraiswamy turned out to be the self-organised Rental service system (conversion of even the single sheltered settlements for rental service) and that shows us the urge of the people to earn income to sustain the livelihood. It is highly ironic as the comparison shows us that as per US Federal Govt. mandates there should be a minimum of 50 sq. ft per person in prison cells and at the same time the life in Dharavi picturises us that the average Floor Space per person is about 48 sq. ft per person. Different times floods, fire accidents and the diseases like typhoid, cholera widespread affected the suffering population. Amidst of this rebellious life of the ordinary people the community is known for its excessive strength of ‘We’ feeling and also registered for lowest crime rates.

Generally, the main issues across slums would be fundamentally same but it may vary between different slum settings structurally. The study reported by Abhijit Banerjee and researchers in 2011 on the slums of Delhi revealed the fact that 83% of toilet sites was infected with fecal or other waste matter. The picture of Dharavi is also same as there exist the issue of scarce availability of bathrooms. As per the UNDP study it is reported that 1440 person shares a bathroom in the slum. The adverse health effects of overcrowding are even intensified by poor access to water and sanitation facilities. Problem of low investment, inefficient health infrastructure and facilities, bungling human capital and issues related with the volatility of political economy are some of the elements which still prevents the shackles of growth to be uncovered. In a way we can realize the following as the far- reaching factors responsible for the lower rate of investments, sluggish growth of human capital and shakiness in the political economy;

  • Informality in land and property ownership.

  • Concomitance of excess population and considerably peripheral returns from additional levels of investment.

  • Payment of high rent premium, as the cost for living in the close proximity of the city tends to reduce the scope for saving accumulation.

  • Failure of proper governance and issues related with systematic implementation of policies.

  • Informal nature of slum and the prejudiced overview of administration system as useless and non-feasible areas of growth and development.

  • Inter-regional disparities in defining, classifying and characterizing a slum.

  • Outcome of the so -called democracy where minority voice is still unrequited.

In simple words we could see that slums are treated as areas of extreme policy neglect over time to time whereas if we look more into the policy implications on slums especially that of Dharavi we could see that in the year 2009 the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) scheme to make India ‘slum-free’ within 5 years was announced and later the period is extended to 7 years. But the net result of the scheme was not at all satisfactory in any sort of elucidation. Recently the Mumbai Development Plan of 2017 and Dharavi Redevelopment Project 2019 estimated with a cost of ₹26000 crore are also on the table of ostensible execution. The different strategies used by the global level government authorities in solving the fundamental problems were highly controversial, starting from the policy of Eviction and large -scale slum clearance, deliberate neglect on expansion of slum areas which resulted in no policy and therefore the negligence of provision of public services in informal settlements and followed by the so-called systems of Aided Self-Help strategy and Land Titling Paradigm.

In altogether there is a high pressure of need for Infrastructure creation along with necessary steps to reduce and eliminate the problems relating human capital and opportunities to break the continuous and uncontrolled transmission of burden over generations. It necessarily should include an all-inclusive approach to address the housing needs of rural migrants, health and hygiene issues, private savings and investments, local governance and property-land market institutions. It is also important in the perspective of the literature of real economic development as there exist the correlation between prevalence of slums and GDP Per Capita to be negative and with the level of inequality to be positive. In this 21st century, especially as the society and lives of the world is under the act of the silent killer Covid-19, day by day the lives of the people in Dharavi is becoming worse and number of death rate also mounting indecisively, there is an excessive requisite for a ‘Big Push Effect’. So better late than never.



  1. Karn, Sunil Kumar; Shikura, Shigeo and Harada, Hideki; ‘living Environment and Health of Urban Poor: A Study in Mumbai’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 38, No. 34.

  2. Tavneet; ‘The Economics of Slums in the Developing World’, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 27, No. 4, American Economic Association.

  3. Patel, Shirish B, ‘Dharavi: Makeover or Takeover?’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 45, No. 24.

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