Even as the state government has failed to accord its sanction to the long-pending draft development plan (DP) for the 240-hectare Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP), it has approved a pre-election sop for the slum cluster’s home-spun leather, pottery, food-processing, garment and many such informal units that collectively have a $1 billion plus annual turnover.
Just before the model code of conduct came into force, the chief minister has sanctioned a part of the Dharavi draft plan, paving the way for setting up a Rs 20-crore Industrial Training Institute (ITI).
“Once the Dharavi ITI becomes operational, it will provide training in skills to the several small-scale industries here. We have been pushing for this project for several years and now it will finally come through,” said local Congress MLA Varsha Gaikwad who was instrumental in getting the project sanctioned by CM Prithviraj Chavan just ahead of the state Assembly polls.
The Congress, which has traditionally maintained its stronghold in the shantytown of Dharavi Assembly constituency, is still reeling under the debacle in the parliamentary polls.
Gaikwad’s father, three-time MLA and two-term Congress MP Eknath Gaikwad, was trounced in the Lok Sabha polls by Sena’s Rahul Shewale, who had a lead in each of the six Assembly segments in the seat, including in the Gaikwad family bastion of Dharavi.
The government-run institute, that is set to come up on a 3000 square metre plot in Anna Nagar in sector 3 of Dharavi, is aimed at imparting skills to workers in the many thriving local industries. Moreover, to enable construction of the institute, the state government issued another notification around the same time stating that educational and government institutions in the Dharavi notified area could be constructed with a higher floor space index (FSI) of four.
For the last decade since the Rs 15,000 crore DRP was first kicked off, rules have disallowed slums from going for redevelopment using high FSI unless the government sanctions the draft plans and calls for tenders for redevelopment.
A senior government official handling the project said that land earmarked for the institute originally belonged to the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, which has been paid Rs 3.75 crore by the Higher and Technical Education department under whose aegis the project would be implemented.
Earlier, the project was also to house the Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design. However, the official said that plans had to be scrapped due to lack of response from the institute.
“The designs for the Dharavi ITI have been finalised by the public works department and tenders for the construction work would be floated as soon as the Assembly elections get over. For the last one year, we have been conducting three courses for students from Dharavi at the six-decade-old ITI at Byculla,” he said.
Due to constraints of space, only three basic courses in welding, electrical works and fittings & soldering were introduced last year at the Byculla ITI specifically for students from Dharavi who have cleared their class X exams. The courses already have a total of 120 students.
However, instead of skill development, the local craftsmen would rather have the government help them with upgrading to newer technology. Dhansukh Parmar is helpless about the fact that his son, like the children of most potters in Dharavi’s 12.5-acre Kumbharwada, has chosen a different career path in computer science.
Parmar, a third-generation potter whose family migrated from Gujarat to Dharavi in 1930s, also rues the fact that mass-produced plastic and other material have replaced the fine hand-crafted flower pots and diyas (lamps), threatening the livelihoods of the 1,200 workers in the enclave.
“The fine skills of pottery have been passed down from generation to generation. What we lack is the technical know-how. Even today, we use the smoke-emitting battis (klins) to create the earthenware, something that our children find unattractive. We require the government’s help in these areas,” Parmar said.