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"Slumdog" turns spotlight on Mumbai's biggest slum
Thu Feb 12, 2009 8:06pm EST
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By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI (Reuters) - A slum portrayed in the award-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire" is at the center of a land controversy in Mumbai that has highlighted the challenges facing a booming India as it tries to modernize its cities.
Dharavi, where part of the film was shot, is the focus of an ambitious, but contentious, 150-billion rupee ($3 billion) redevelopment plan to turn shanties near the heart of the Indian financial capital into upscale apartments and office towers.
Dharavi's residents, who would be relocated to tiny apartments under the redevelopment plan, are hoping that the popularity of the film will put the government under pressure to uphold their rights.
"Perhaps they will think more about our welfare, and listen to our opinions on what we want," said Albert Raj, a long-time resident who runs a telephone booth in Dharavi.
Once a marshy stretch of land on the outskirts of Mumbai, Dharavi is today Asia's largest slum.
More than half a million people are crammed into a maze of shops and squat homes. The stench of sewers mixes with the spicy aromas of cooking and a cacophony of noises from workshops blend with the chants of worshippers praying at mosques and temples.
Mumbai has long been a magnet for the poor from northern and eastern states. Its pricey real estate has led to the formation of dozens of slums, often hotbeds of criminal activity, as depicted in "Slumdog Millionaire."
Dharavi is also a thriving industrial area that earns $500 million a year from cottage industries in squalid homes and workshops that produce everything from pickles to shoes.
But it is the land itself, located near the business district, that is coveted by developers in land-starved Mumbai.
CITY WITHIN A CITY
There have been many attempts at developing Dharavi by politicians and builders keen on a windfall in a city that has seen property prices soar along with India's economic fortunes.
"The redevelopment of such a large land mass in a central location in a city like Mumbai is very, very rare and hugely important to developers," said Subhankar Mitra, an analyst at real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj.
This is particularly the case due to the difficulties of acquiring land in India as ascertaining property ownership is a complex task due to the absence of title deeds and claims by squatters.
Dharavi, where the government has provided basic amenities such as electricity and common water taps and toilets, is particularly challenging because of its size and complexity.
"It is a city within a city," said Mitra. Continued...
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