Dharavi, India: A Humming Balance


Dharavi is the second largest slum in the world, housing 1 million people and industries two thirds of a square mile in central Mumbai. Space is at a premium, resources are used wisely, waste is managed to the best that technology offers.

Below is a map of Mumbai. Dharavi is located at Point A.
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The video clip below gives a glimpse into a typical street in Dharavi. Notice the cramped, yet clean streets.


Quick Facts:Breaking Down Dharavi Into Numbers

  • 18000 people per acre
  • along with other Mumbai slums, pays 40% of nations taxes
  • 73% of slum population is illiterate
  • 2,000 families in the pottery business
  • 20 leather processing units (turn over $20 mil annually)
  • 6,000 TONS rubbish produced per day
  • 30,000 ragpickers
  • 200 recycling plants
  • 3% slum residents depend on public toilets
  • less than 1% has access to private and/or paper toilets
  • 5% have access to water thru private taps

Geo-Political Facts

  • 427 acre triangular stretch of land
  • Houses over 600,000 slum dwellers
  • 85% of households own a TV
  • 75% of households own a pressure cooker & mixer
  • 56% of households own a gas stove
  • 21% of households own a telephone
  • 70% of Dharavis buildings are now used for commercial purposes. E.g. Banks and Restaurants.





Projections for the Future of Dharavi

As Mumbai grows and industrializes, Dharavi becomes a "human dumping ground" for dispossessed workers and penniless mingrants arriving to seek their fortue in India's commercial capital. However, Dharavi is now becoming one of Mumbai's prime real estate areas. A standard apartment - 2 room, 21 square meters - now sells for $11,000.
  • A 33-year-old real estate broker in Dharavi: "10 years ago, poor people were my only clients and huts my only properties. My only line was: poor people can afford it. Now I sell to businessmen, investors, and speculators. I tell them, This is a commercial center! It's slap in the middle of the city." (2006)
Looking beyond the stereotype, there is a successful settelement with a vibrant community and economy.
Developers want to "raze" all of Dharavi and redevelop it. However, many argue that Dharavi is a model settlement that needs to be replicated, not replaced.
  • Dharavi was intense economic community - "informal businesses are linked to formal businesses"; "you name it and the business exists."
  • While the government wants to destroy most of Dharavi's homes and businesses, the residents just want the state to acknowledge that they too can contribute to the prosperity of the nation.
  • Residents are also frustrated that the state does not have sustained and organized discussions with them.
The fact that Dharavi has a very close work-place relationship, and its economic activity is human-scale, home-based, and low-tech, this has created an "organic developing urban form" that is high density but low-rised. This is a model that many planners have been trying to recreate in cities.
  • Instead, the state government wants to force the relocation of Dharavi residents into apartments in high rise towers so the land will be free to commercial explitators from developers. (This is estimated to cost roughly $460 million but produce at least a 900% profit.)
Recently, sectoral divisions of Dharavi proposed in the Dharavi Redevelopment Plan would segregate land. But, the population of Dharavi has not had much to say in the creation of this plan for their own community.

A private developer Mukul Devichand at Neptune Enterprises has ambitious plans for Dharavi. It is being driven by the private sector, not by international aid or tax-payers money. Neptune have engaged the famous British architect Sir Norman Foster as part of their bid.

Mukesh Mehta has a redevelopment project for Dharavi. His vision for Dharavi is for it to be sustainable and "slum-free" for middle class people. His plan is the following:
  • 5 sectors that are rebuilt by international investors (public-private partnerships)
  • 57,000 families
  • high-rent apartments on evacuated land
  • shopping complexes, hospitals, schools, wider roads and playgrounds
  • development of local industrial unites
  • costs: about US $1.1 billion
  • Motto: SOS ~ "Support Our Slums"

An Improvement Plan for Dharavi

As Dharavi's prosperity is increasingly being recognized, many groups are calling for this slum to be knocked down to make way for new housing.

However, Monash Asia Institute director Professor Marika Vicziany has an alternate way to help the residents.
  • It is true that Dharavi is very chaotic and needs a change, but Vicziany does not believe destroying buildings is the "correct" solution.
  • Last year, Vicziany started a project that includes investigating Dharavi's sanitation, sewerage, solid waste disposal, water management and food distribution needs.
  • The main question is: "If you have one dollar to spend on Dharavi, what would you do with it?"
  • The project was able to provide a list of priorities given to the goverment that demonstrates what the residents need the most to improve their daily lives.

Public Sanitation Comes First!

A study showed that there was one toilet for ever 1488 people in Dharavi. The Dharavi project hopes to build more toilets for this slum.
  • Vicziany: "Public sanitation is certainly an area in which outside intervention could play a critical role. Better sanitiation means better health and less expenditure on medicines and visits to clinics."

Important Note: any plan for Dharavi must explicitly take into consideration the work-place relationship that has developed over the years. This will ensure that any plans will not destroy the existing structure that has sustained in their economy.

  • For the least, this development plan will also refurbish the work places of the existing industries within the residential areas by providing low-rise high-density row housing for existing families.


Intervention from the Global Community?

5. discussion of whether intervention from the global community is necessary, who within the global community is best equipped to inttalk ofervene, and what kind of measures they should take

Being one of the largest slums in the world, Dharavi, has a population of approximately 1 million people. With poverty on such an extreme level, it is necessary that intervention from the Global Community takes place.
"UN-HABITAT Global Campaign for Secure Tenure" is an organization that strives for "a better urban future". (7) Contrived of 3 separate initiatives, the group aims to reduce the cause and effects of slums throughout Eastern and Southern Africa. They aim to provide help and economic opportunities for slum dwellers, as well as providing aid for NGO's advocating for the same cause. Help such as this would be highly beneficial for Dharavi, India. As Dharavi's growth and prosperity continues, it is true that slum dwellers may be able to reach some economic success by themselves- but in a land stricken with poverty they can only go so far. However, the help of investment and aid from foreign nations will lift the people beyond what is expected. The densely populated slum clearly obtains a low sanitation rate and the accessibility to clean water is scarce. With the help of well equipped nations, Dharavi will have room to prosper and increase sanitation. With 3% of the population of Dharavi relying on public toilets, it is clear that intervention is key.
Despite the continual need for intervention in Dharavi, there are currently many NGO's working to increase prosperity and conditions within the slum. Many of the NGO's within Dharavi are working to provide aid, facilities and education for the disabled children living there. Karuna Sadan, a subdivision of the Sion Hospital in Mumbai, works to provide "education for the spastic children from slum areas".(8) Along with the presence of NGO's advocating for disabled children within the slum, many other NGO's provide services for education and training. Shramik Vidyapeeth, Blessing Youth Mission and Mennonite Brethren Bible Institute are all NGO's that work toward providing education for members of Dharavi. It is necessary that sanitation becomes the highest priority of NGO's intervening in Dharavi.


The People of Dharavi

As in any place in the world, Dharavi is home to a diverse group of people, some of which are happy with where they live and their profession, others less than satisfied. The following snipits taken from biographies from the BBC world news highlight the different experiences of life in Dharavi.

"I am constantly concerned for the safety of my children and I practically lock them in the house after 6pm. Not only is it unsafe to play near the tracks but also the possibility of them being kidnapped or assaulted petrifies me." - Velma, 27 (housewife and maid)

"I have land in my village but one earns very little money there. What I would get after a day of back-breaking work in the field is what I make here after working an hour's overtime." -Rakesh, 24 (leather worker)

"I like it here because people are friendly and look out for me. If my husband is working late and does the night shift I don't feel scared because I think this is the safest place for us. If I had more money, I would probably build a bigger house." - Esakkiamal, 40 (housewife)

"I invite my friends over because I am not ashamed of where I stay and it doesn't bother me that Dharavi is considered a slum area. They come home and I go over to their's as well... We have a common outdoor toilet but have a wet space in a corner of the room that is used as a bathroom and a kitchen sink. Our clothes are also washed there." -Arockia, 18 (college student)

"I did think of living somewhere else, such as a flat in the city, but they asked for a deposit of 150,000 rupees ($3,300/£1,750). I couldn't afford it. I also calculated I would spend more money travelling, so it made sense to stay here...We manage to survive on whatever I earn because we only spend on things that are necessary." - Janjibhai, 45 (potter)

"I am in a hurry to leave Dharavi. I've lived here since 1979 and I am tired of the hurdles I face every time I go for a job or a bank loan due to my slum address." - Selvaraj, 46 (aircraft engineer)


1. "Mumbai," map, Google Maps, http://maps.google.com (accessed November 5, 2010).

2. Perfectparodys, prod., Dharavi Steets, You Tube, February 17, 2008, MPEG,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsKNVhYS7oY&feature=fvw (accessed November 5, 2010).

3. Information From Section Three Comes From the Following sources:

AROON, PREETI. "Photo Essay: India's Real-World Slumdogs | Foreign Policy." Foreign Policy - the global magazine of economics, politics, and ideas. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/02/03/photo_essay_indias_real_worl d_slumdogs (accessed November 5, 2010).

Jacobson, Mark. "Dharavi: Mumbai's Shadow City." National Geographic. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/05/dharavi-mumbai-slum/jacobson-text/2 (accessed October 28, 2010).

“Recycling." India Environmental. http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/node/25536 (accessed November 3, 2010).

Shankardass, Sharad . "Mumbai's Quest For World City Status." UN- HABITAT 3-16 Dec (2006): 1-3.

Urban poverty in India: A flourishing slum | The Economist." The Economist - World News, Politics, Economics, Business &Finance. http://www.economist.com/node/10311293?story_id=10311293 (accessed November 5, 2010).

4. Perry, Alex. "Life in Dharavi Time Asia ". (2006), http://www.time.com/time/asia/covers/501060619/slum.html . (accessed November 5, 2010).

5. Apte, Prakash M. "Dharavi: India's Model Slum." Planetizen. http://www.planetizen.com/node/35269 (accessed November 3, 2010).

6.Squires, Diane. "Finding a better future for Dharavi." Monash University. http://www.monash.edu.au/pubs/monmag/issue12-2003/research/dharavi.html (accessed November 5, 2010).

7. "UN-HABITAT Global Campaign for a better urban future." http://www.unhabitat.org/content.asp?cid=2061&catid=24&typeid=13&subMenuId=0 (accessed 11/5/2010).

8. "Karmayog- NGO's in Dharavia." http://www.karmayog.com/ngoarea/dharavi.htm (accessed 11/5/2010).

9. "Dharavi Slum." BBC News - Home. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/world/06/dharavi_slum/html/dharavi_slum_ 1.stm (accessed November 5, 2010).