Flourishing slum!

Among the Xmas specials in the years end of the year edition of the Economist you will find this fascinating story about life in the Dharavi, a slum in Mumbai.

I have luckily never lived in slum and probably never will. I live in a very privileged part of the world. On this fortunate background it is amazing to read about how people in slum not only survive but also improves their lives. Improvements maybe not today and maybe not to anywhere near the level acceptable to me and fellow Scandinavians. But steadily their lives improves. And this is not due the financial aid to in casu India from Scandinavia and other well meaning donor countries of the developed world. No its due to these peoples’ human drive and ingenuity.

It seems to me that one of the best things that such people can get is free markets and opportunities. And that government burocrats keep their hands off. However, this quote from the article emphasizes that it might not be so simple after all:

For a decade, the state government has tried coaxing the slum-dwellers to let it bulldoze their hutments and build high-rise apartments instead. Each dispossessed family is entitled to a flat of 225 square feet. After 30 years, they will be allowed to sell it. But only a few have accepted this offer. So now the government is trying to enforce it. In August it put the bulldozing and redevelopment of Dharavi, in six parcels, out to tender. The work was due to begin this year. But it has been stalled by bad press nationally and local protests, organised by Mr Korde.

For small businessmen like him, the redevelopment plan is a nightmare. The slum’s hutment factories, havens from tax and regulation, would be destroyed. In their place would be purpose-built workshops, for rent at commercial rates. “I will be finished,” says Mr Khan, the scholarly looking tailor. For poorer residents, like Ms Ishwar, the widow living in rubbish-blown misery, the story would be different. Her new apartment, unlike her current hovel, would be fit for human habitation. If she, or rather her relatives, sold it, they would be rich. Either way, Mr Korde admits, the scheme will eventually happen.

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