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Dharavi, the sprawl that inspired Slumdog Millionaire, no longer Mumbai's largest slum

City's famous cramped sprawl of ramshackle brick houses, corrugated iron-roofed huts and noisy potteries and tanneries has been overtaken in size as smaller slums in northern suburbs expanded and started to run into one another.

A rag picker sifts through garbage to collect plastic items that can be resold in market, in a dirty rivulet in Dharavi, Mumbai. Dharavi is one of the world's largest slums, with more than 6,000 residents. Rafiq Maqbool / AP Photo
A rag picker sifts through garbage to collect plastic items that can be resold in market, in a dirty rivulet in Dharavi, Mumbai. Dharavi is one of the world's largest slums, with more than 6,000 residents. Rafiq Maqbool / AP Photo

MUMBAI // Dharavi, which inspired the film Slumdog Millionaire, is no longer the largest slum in Mumbai, as other shantytowns in India's financial capital have grown and merged, researchers said yesterday.

The architect PK Das, who conducted a survey of the city based on satellite maps and development planning studies, said smaller slums in northern suburbs had expanded over the years to the extent where they have started to run into one another.

"The slums are bigger than Dharavi. There are hundreds of societies which have come together to merge to form a contiguous land area," he said.

Dharavi, situated on 215 hectares of prime building land in Mumbai and the most famous symbol of the city's wealth divide, has often been called Asia's largest slum, although studies have disputed the claim.

The United Nations-backed Mumbai Human Development Report 2009 said Karachi's Orangi Township was Asia's largest and noted that "even in Mumbai other slum pockets rival Dharavi in size and squalor".

Dharavi is a filthy and cramped sprawl of ramshackle brick houses, bamboo and corrugated iron-roofed huts and noisy, dusty workshops of potteries, tanneries and other micro-industries.

But its informal organisation and community spirit has won praise from Britain's Prince Charles and was the setting for Vikas Swarup's novel Q and A, which was later turned into the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

Mr Das said Dharavi continues to play an important role to Mumbai's economy, calling it a "huge factory of production", but city planners needed to take into account its problems when drawing up a slum redevelopment plan.

Provisional data from this year's national census suggests that about nine million people, or 63 per cent of Mumbai's official 14.3 million population, live in slums.

Das said that the growth of Mumbai's shantytowns showed that the city authorities' current regeneration programme was not working and more focus was needed on improving quality of life as well as providing affordable housing.

"There must be town planning principles with the slums. They're no longer little. They need to ensure that there are open spaces and amenities," he said.