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‘Dharavi fast becoming city’s Covid capital’: Jitendra Awhad writes to CM for redevelopment push

Spread over 2.4 sq km, Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, is home to some 60,000 families and 8.5 lakh people. It has so far reported 1,353 cases and 56 deaths.

Written by Sandeep A Ashar , Neeraj Tiwari | Mumbai | Published: May 22, 2020 3:14:48 am
coronavirus, coronavirus cases in mumbai, dharavi slum, coronavirus cases in dharavi, covid 19 in dharavi, covid 19 deaths in dharavi, maharashtra housing minister, Jitendra Awhad, uddhav thackeray, indian express news Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad. (File)

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the much-delayed redevelopment plan of Dharavi is back in focus.

Contending that the public health crisis has led to the building up of a negative perception about Dharavi, Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad has written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, asking him to issue orders to redevelop the slum urgently. School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad, also the Dharavi MLA, too, is pushing for the redevelopment.

Spread over 2.4 sq km, Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, is home to some 60,000 families and 8.5 lakh people. It has so far reported 1,353 cases and 56 deaths.

In the letter, Awhad wrote, “Dharavi is fast becoming the Covid-19 capital of Mumbai. A major factor for the spread of the infection in the area has been the high density of population and the lack of quality healthcare services. This has created a negative perception about Dharavi. On the other hand, you won’t get a more appropriate opportunity to push Dharavi’s redevelopment, which will lead to its overall social and economic upliftment.”

Dharavi sits on a prime land in the heart of Mumbai, close to India’s richest business area, the Bandra-Kurla Complex. It’s redevelopment has been on every political party’s agenda since 2004, but it has failed to take off so far.

In November 2018, then Devendra Fadnavis government, too, had approved a new model for the slum’s redevelopment. In the global bidding process that followed, Dubai-based infrastructure firm, SECLINK Technologies Corporation (STC), had emerged as the top bidder, having committed to an upfront capital investment of Rs 7,100 crore for the Rs 26,000-crore revamp plan.

On March 8, 2019, the Dharavi Redevelopment Project Authority, a state-run SPV, had even issued a Letter of Intimation (LOI) recognising STC as the topmost bidder and declared the government’s intention of awarding the contract to the firm. But there has been little progress since them, with the government seeking legal opinion on whether the tendering process for the revamp itself had been vitiated due to a subsequent development where the Railways had handed over a 45-acre plot for the development work. The only other bidder in the tender was the Adani Group.

But contending that the revamp would also suit the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi, Awhad has now pushed for kick-starting the work. “All permissions are in place. The plan has been approved. Given the circumstances, if a decision to promote Dharavi’s redevelopment is taken or even if an announcement is made, it will also be politically beneficial to the coalition,” said Awhad.

“We can seek another legal opinion if required. The project should not be delayed further,” he added, arguing that the project would also create many jobs.

Gaikwad, meanwhile, said, “The pandemic has taught us a lot of things. It has underlined the importance of social distancing, space and personal hygiene. Dharavi’s vertical development will led to better crowd management, bigger roads and better healthcare facilities. It is the need of the hour.” When contacted, Nilang Shah of STC said, “We would be happy to be a part of Dharavi’s transformation. The redevelopment has the potential to boost Mumbai’s real estate market too.”

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