india, gautam adani, slum, dharavi, slumdog millionaire, Mumbai, Maharashtra, wealth, inequal
Dharavi slum in India symbolises the country’s vast wealth inequality, but also holds lucrative investment opportunities. Photo: Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Asia’s Richest Man Is Giving the Slum From ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ a Makeover

Dharavi, a slum that houses over a million in Mumbai city, is the symbol of India’s vast wealth inequalities. Will Gautam Adani change that?
Pallavi Pundir
Jakarta, ID

On Tuesday, Asia’s richest man, billionaire Gautam Adani, won the right to redevelop Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum in the heart of Mumbai city.

Adani Enterprises, the billionaire’s flagship firm that has a market value of $55 billion, outbid top developers at $612 million to lay claim to what Indian authorities call “the world’s largest urban renewal scheme.” Dharavi is the world’s most recognisable slum, and was made internationally famous by Hollywood director Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire. 


For Adani, Dharavi is one of many ambitious development projects in India, as he expands his empire exponentially. This year, his business grew to make him the world’s third richest man.

For the people of Dharavi, the news comes after decades of failed attempts to drastically redevelop an area that symbolises the country’s vast wealth inequalities, but also holds lucrative investment opportunities. 

Over 40 percent of Mumbai’s 22 million population live in slums. In Dharavi, 60,000 cramped shanty homes house a million people. Dharavi is surrounded by swanky skyscrapers, and is on a piece of land that is barely two-thirds the size of Manhattan’s Central Park.

A Dharavi resident, Bhau Korde, said many like him are confused as to what the redevelopment plan entails. “Without any concrete solutions to specifically address the problems of Dharavi, we might just end up in a multi-storied slum,” Bhau told VICE World News. 

So far, the state promises resettling 68,000 people in 300-square-foot houses for free for those who moved there before the year 2000, and at a price for those who moved there after. But Bhau said details such as the kind of housing, its facilities, and its distance from Dharavi haven't been shared with residents. 

Despite the optics, Dharavi is a real estate gold mine. It’s located near India’s richest business district and its informal economy is estimated to be worth $1 billion. Indian urban and public transport planner Bhaumik, who goes by just one name, told VICE World News that Dharavi is a location of significant importance in Mumbai, which has been expanding to fix its overpopulation problem


“It makes more sense for Mumbai to provide new infrastructure in existing areas, rather than build them in new areas,” said Bhaumik. “Dharavi sits on nearly 700 acres of landmass in the heart of the city, sandwiched between an international financial district and the airport. It makes sense to develop this land.”

The big question, Bhaumik added, is: “How will they do it? How will they accommodate so many people, or convince them to move into other buildings? This is a very sensitive subject in India.”

The city’s redevelopment projects and resettlement of economically disadvantaged communities have run into controversies in the past for massive delays, corruption and poor quality resettlement packages

SVR Srinivas, the CEO of the Maharashtra state government’s Dharavi Redevelopment Project, which put Dharavi up for international bidding, told Reuters that the plan is to make a “a city within a city” covering 253 hectares, which will provide housing to half of Dharavi’s residents. 


For as long as the state government has been calling for bids, some Dharavi residents have been pushing back on aspects of the redevelopment plan. The two-decade delay only adds to the frustrations. 

india, gautam adani, slum, dharavi, slumdog millionaire, Mumbai, Maharashtra, wealth, inequality, redevelopment, real estate

Dharavi is over a million residents, most of whom are migrants. Many of them stand to lose their home because of the redevelopment project. Photo: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

Raju Korde, who heads the Dharavi Redevelopment Committee made up of residents, said that from the beginning, local communities haven’t been involved in redevelopment planning. “According to our state’s slum act, any redevelopment requires people’s participation. In our case, we weren’t given a chance,” he said. 

Dharavi, which started as a fishing settlement, has a thriving and shifting population of migrants who have lived there for generations. 

Bhau Korde said that this will put migrants, who have been living in Dharavi houses without proper documents for decades, in trouble. “They will be forced to be on the streets,” he said. 

Mumbai's Smart Slum

Bhaumik agreed that the “redevelopment plan has to consider and integrate them.” 

“People call Dharavi a slum but the truth is, it’s a revenue-generating ecosystem, with its small-scale industries and migrant workforce,” he said.  

Varsha Eknath Gaikwad, a state opposition politician, brought up controversies Adani’s other infrastructure projects have run into, most recently the massive $900 million port in India’s Kerala state, where fishing communities have been protesting the last four months. In Jharkhand state and Goa city, locals are also calling out his coal mining projects. Before this, a coal mining and rail project financed by him in Australia received severe backlash. 


“My question therefore to the Maharashtra govt is have they considered any special steps to ensure Dharavikars interest is protected and Adani's interests come later?” she tweeted. 

Raju Korde said that people of Dharavi aren’t opposed to redevelopment and “want a better life.”

“Especially small scale industry workers who aren’t working within the legal framework,” he said. “But our big fear is: Will Adani develop it according to our needs? Will he have the machinery to solve the problems he will face while redeveloping Dharavi?” 

Previously, Srinivas, the CEO of Dharavi Redevelopment Board, had told The Indian Express that Dharavi poses unique problems because of its high density and the complex demography of the slum. Until this week, multiple bidding invitations failed, according to news reports, because of how they wanted to use Dharavi land and their eligibility criteria for inhabitants.

Matias Sendoa Echanove, a founding member of Dharavi-based urban design collective called Urbz, told VICE World News that top-down redevelopment plans, which didn’t factor in the residents, have “always failed” in the slum. 

“The solution can't be the destruction of the neighbourhood and the expulsion of a major part of its population,” said Echanove. “What [Dharavi] needs is not redevelopment but help in the form of tax breaks and infrastructure provision.”

He added that Dharavi is not a slum but a “homegrown neighbourhood” that is a “laboratory of community-driven urban development. Mumbai should celebrate Dharavi and not destroy it.”

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