Will one of Mumbai’s key slums at Worli get redeveloped?

Almost half of Mumbai’s population stays in slums. This population resides in 24% of the habitable land of Mumbai. Hence any meaningful sized real estate project often comes about only through slum redevelopment. In simple language – slum redevelopment involves clearing slums from a particular piece of land, thereafter using that land to rehouse the slum dwellers into apartments free of cost, while constructing certain number of apartments that are sold in the open market. The slum-dweller gets a free and honorable apartment. The government makes money via the levies and taxes charged on construction. The builder makes money (not always though) by selling apartments in the open market.

In February 2021 I decided to visit slums in Mumbai wherein large slum rehabilitation projects are being evaluated or considered. One key slum I visited was the Jijamata Nagar slum at Worli –  Opposite the Four Seasons Hotel. It is a slum with 4,200 homes and almost 25,000 people. The size is around 1.7 acres in size. The slum has been on the radar for redevelopment for decades now. Currently it is being targeted to be redeveloped by DB Realty & Prestige Group.

I have visited slums several times earlier but in every visit I am overwhelmed. The living conditions of slum dwellers is tough. Shanties are small and dense. Hygiene is given a backseat. Aspects like sewage and drainage are largely non-existent. The air feels stifled. There is no such thing as open space. It is a compromised existence.

Movies may give slums a romanticized flavour and portray slum dwellers as a spirited lot – but there is little doubt that this is a venue that is tough to romanticize and the residents in reality are a bunch that are seeing their spirit challenged and beaten on a daily basis.

The spirit was high not very long ago when developers were going all-out to acquire slums in Mumbai as part of their slum redevelopment projects. Residents believed their jackpot had arrived. For few of them, it even did. Unfortunately for a majority of them – it did not. A combination of internal conflict, greed, developer balance sheet, regulations and political mischief have sabotaged most planned slum redevelopment projects. Thus a model has emerged wherein credible developers only engage in a slum redevelopment project with the mandate of construction and marketing of a project while a partner does the activity of slum clearance and management.

Given the number of false starts that have happened, today’s slum dweller at Jijamata Nagar is a suspicious and a tired one. The area around them has transformed with many glitzy high rises – although in my view it was Lokhandwala’s Zahra that made the first big move. But conditions in the slum have only worsened. There is desperation. As one of them told me “Once upon a time we were all being promised 580 square feet free apartments. Today even if we get the minimum space stipulated by government, we will take it.”

The desperation may not translate into a deal however. From my conversations with the residents – it appeared that slum clearance was still some distance away. There has been no builder who has been able to convince the broader population. On the contrary, all the ones who have been involved previously have only caused suspicion to rise.

Will redevelopment happen then? It may. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.