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Dharavi revamp in turmoil | Explained

The Dharavi Redevelopment Project, an initiative to rebuild Asia’s largest slum, has sparked heated controversies and political clashes, primarily due to allegations of favouritism towards the Adani Group, the winning bidder for the project; Opposition parties cited irregularities in tender processes, raising concerns about transparency

On December 16, wielding flags and banners bearing slogans like “Remove Adani, Save Dharavi”, thousands of protesters led by Opposition parties in Maharashtra marched towards billionaire Gautam Adani’s Mumbai office to express their dissent against the ₹23,000 crore Dharavi Redevelopment Project.

Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum cluster, and the third largest in the world, is home to nearly 58,000 families who migrated to India’s financial capital from across the subcontinent over decades. It stands on a 300-hectare slice of prime land in the heart of the city overlooking the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), India’s premium business district.

What is the Dharavi Redevelopment Project?

For almost two decades, the Maharashtra government has been struggling to find a ‘perfect’ bidder, who can take up the challenge of rebuilding a ‘city within a city’ by relocating all the slum-dwellers and their businesses till the redevelopment is finished.

In 1999, the BJP-Sena government first proposed to redevelop Dharavi. Later in 2004, the Congress government led by the late Vilasrao Deshmukh formed the Dharavi Redevelopment Authority under the Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) intending to make Mumbai, a slum-free city.

However, the project never got off the ground due to various reasons. According to SRA, 48.35% of Mumbai’s population lives in slums which occupy about 24% of the city’s area.

Over several years, global tenders were floated in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2016, 2018 and 2022. The number of applicants varied significantly, ranging from 101 in 2007 to none in some instances.

Finally, in November of last year, Adani Properties Private Limited successfully secured the 259-hectare redevelopment project through competitive bidding. The conglomerate quoted ₹5,069 crore for the project, while the DLF Group submitted a bid of ₹2,025 crore.

The redevelopment plan is an integrated development approach of the residential, commercial, and industrial with a floor space index of over 4.

What is the new controversy?

In November 2018, the State government under the leadership of the then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis approved a new model for redeveloping the slum.

Although a Dubai-based consortium - Seclink Technologies Corporation - successfully bid against Adani in January 2019, the tender was not awarded due to the decision to incorporate 47.5 acres of Railway land into the redevelopment project.

In October 2020, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, led by Uddhav Thackeray, annulled the tender, citing plans to issue new tenders soon. The MVA government stated that one reason for cancelling the tender was the delay by the Centre in transferring the critical railway land necessary for the project.

After the Eknath Shinde government came to power, Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and Deputy Chief Minister Mr. Fadnavis, on October 18 last, signed a ‘definitive agreement’ for handing over Railway land in Dadar for the project.

The Seclink Technologies Corporation launched a legal battle alleging the State government improperly cancelled an original 2018 tender for the slum redevelopment and favoured Adani Group in giving the new contract.

Even Mr. Thackeray and several Opposition leaders accused the government of giving undue favours to Adani Group in allotting and executing the slum overhaul contract.

In November, the Congress alleged that the BJP government is “benefitting” Adani Group by relaxing norms for the Dharavi redevelopment project with the party’s general secretary (communication) Jairam Ramesh alleging that the Maharashtra Urban Development Department, which had originally expressed its reservations about relaxing the rules, “has been compelled to issue a notification that removes the provision of indexation in Dharavi’s real estate Transferable Development Rights (TDR), and made it mandatory for all Mumbai builders to buy the first 40% of their TDRs from Adani”.

What happened on December 16?

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Mr. Thackeray led a march with thousands of demonstrators from the slum to Mr. Adani’s office alleging that the government is favouring the conglomerate and cited suspicious decisions, including TDR sale clause benefiting Adani Group significantly.

The decision to lead a march was announced on December 5.

Expressing concern over the future of the residents, the former Chief Minister said: “Enough information is available about the Dharavi redevelopment project which raises suspicion about whether the government is trying to benefit Adani at the cost of Dharavi residents.”

Mr. Thackeray said that he is not against development and advocated his stance that he is not ‘pro-builder’, the reason for the downfall of his government in June last year.

“Now one can understand who financed the toppling of my government. With the Shiv Sena around, the BJP could not help its friends; so my party was broken and its symbol was stolen,” he said while addressing the protesters. He alleged that the redevelopment project involves TDR irregularities worth over ₹100 crore.

He said that there is a need for fair treatment during redevelopment and the government should give 500 sq.ft houses for Dharavi residents, including police personnel, conservancy workers, and mill workers, and also a financial centre in the area. He also suggested that the redevelopment should be carried out by the government.

The government aimed to offer 300 sq.ft houses for free to residents with evidence of their slum structure’s existence before January 1, 2000. For those who established residency in Dharavi between 2000 and 2011, the houses were made available at a designated price.

The Dharavi assembly constituency is represented by Mumbai Congress President Varsha Gaikwad.

What is BJP and Adani Group’s stance?

Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar said the tender as well as TDR details of the project were finalised by the Thackeray government, which was in power between November 2019 and June 2022.

“The conditions of the tender for the development of Dharavi and the tender itself were both prepared when Mr. Thackeray was the Chief Minister,” he said.

The official spokesperson of the project from Adani Group, too, claimed that the tender conditions were finalised during the tenure of the MVA government. “Conditions, including the obligations and incentives, which were known to all the bidders, have not been changed for the awardee post the tendering process. Hence, it is wrong to claim that any special benefits have been given to the awardee,” they said in a statement.

“It is unfortunate that a concerted effort is being made to disseminate misinformation about certain aspects of the project. It is reiterated that all eligible tenement holders will be provided with a key-to-key solution, which means they will move into their new homes in Dharavi itself,” the statement said.

As per the tender conditions, even ineligible tenement holders will be provided accommodation under the Rental Housing Policy. The tender provisions also ensure that eligible residential tenements will receive 17 % more area than other SRA projects in Mumbai. Further, the generation and usage of TDR are as per the tender conditions and fully compliant with the relevant laws.

“Moreover, the resettlement of Dharavikars is not affected by TDR,” it said.

Also, the TDR from the project will be managed and monitored transparently through a specially created portal by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and the Maharashtra government. “The State government has entered into a 99-year lease agreement with the Indian Railways, and then it will be subleased on 30 years + 30 years basis like any other government land in Mumbai to the housing societies. There is no change in this policy for the Dharavi Redevelopment Project,” it further said.

The spokesperson said that the project assumes added significance because many earlier attempts have failed to deliver. “It is against this backdrop that the Adani Group has taken up the challenge and the responsibility of transforming Dharavi with all the above facilities.”

What is the current status of the project?

In September, the DRP and Adani Properties formed a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called the Dharavi Redevelopment Project Pvt Ltd (DRPPL). The developer holds 80% equity in SPV and the State government will hold the remaining 20%.

The chairman/chairperson of the SPV will be appointed by the government, and the managing director will be appointed by the Adani Group. Both positions are still vacant.

Upon assuming responsibility, the team’s initial objective will be to formulate the master plan for the redevelopment and conduct a survey. The deadline for submitting the master plan is set at 150 days. This plan will provide comprehensive information about the designated areas for rehabilitation buildings and free sale buildings, along with the positioning of public amenities such as schools, hospitals, gardens, and playgrounds.

The masterplan and survey reports will be submitted to the government which will take a final call.

When will the project be finished?

The Maharashtra government is highly optimistic about completing the entire process of rehabilitation and redevelopment in seven years starting next year. However, the developer stated that the period is ‘insufficient’ and sought at least 10-12 years for the entire process to be completed, a source said.

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