Pinky Chandran and Marwan Abubaker
Dharavi: A city within a city
Multi-ethnic, dynamic and entrepreneurial are just few adjectives that describe Dharavi. “At 3 sq km land area and over one million inhabitants, Dharavi is hailed is Asia’s biggest slum or “jhopad patti”, said Mohammed our guide, outside the walkway at Mahim West Railway Station. Though the tag the biggest slum is misnomer, given that other slums around have surpassed Dharavi, there is something distinctly unique about this mega slum – a city within a city, challenging the traditional notion of a slum.
Dharavi’s location is of prime importance as it sits between two main suburban rail lines- Mahim West and Sion and near the Bandra-Kurla Complex, the new business district. In short “a real estate goldmine”! A once tiny fishing island, Dharavi soon became a dump yard for waste, the poor and the migrants and the creek that sustained fishing a sewage line. Excluded and isolated, Dharavi became a hub for informal economy post Independence.
As you walk down the steps of the walk way the visuals of Dharavi stretches out like a hodgepodge of asbestos sheet structures, blue tarpaulins, wood and some concrete bricks which give way to the maze of matchbox buildings; the cranking sounds of plastic crushing machines and beating of tins, hammering, soldering provide for background music and the smell of vada pav quickly overpowers you. Mohammed quickly explains the photography policy and the tour- segment one the commercial area and segment two the residential area.
The 13 Compound Industrial Area
Dharavi is home to over 10,000 small establishments that has transformed the place into a sustainable entrepreneurial hub. We are first taken to 13 Compound Industrial areas that house the recycling and scrap area of Dharavi, where everything is recycled – bottles, drums, paper, cardboard, soap, tin, iron. While over 1000 odd establishments have licenses, many small set-ups co-exists silently transforming trash.
Standing outside a small 10 by 10 godown, where computer keyboards are being dissembled, Mohammed directs us to climb up a narrow, creaky ladder and throws in a rope for a rail. On the first floor we are greeted with crushed / powered parts being sifted. Mohammed urges us up the ladder, with no support, you literally have to balance and hold on to the ladder to reach your way up to the roof top to see the overview of Dharavi. On the roof tops of most buildings are different types of plastics piled up – on some plastic chairs, containers, trays take up the roof space, and in some plastic beads are left for drying separated by colour- white and black. In the periphery one can spot the high rises and other new construction.
Leading the City’s green movement
After quick photographs, including selfies, we make our way down to meet the owner of the place who proudly tells us that, “Dharavi is a close knit community. We recycle 80 % of Mumbai’s waste but not many recognize that recycling is important tool to fight global warming, conserve resources, reduce costs and is a source of employment to over a million people in the city”.
He goes on to explain that “Dharavi is the recycling center of India. With increased consumerism, waste-pickers, the poorest of the poor, often make ends meet by picking up waste discarded by people and in turn sell it to local scrap dealers who sell it here to people like us in Dharavi. Their role, though indispensible, often escapes the narratives of a municipal waste management program”. He further questions a world without informal recyclers, “What would happen to Mumbai’s waste, if we did not exist?”
According to the BMC’s Environment Status Report for 2011-12 the city generates 9,200 metric tonnes of garbage daily. For our study we assume that 27% of the total waste generated is dry waste, which is about 2484 tons per day and take into account two different statements on the recycling figures of Dharavi , in the absence of any official estimates and the numbers are staggering, equally so are the savings to the municipality
Statement 1: If 80% of the total dry waste is recycled in Dharavi
80% of the total dry waste recycled is about 1987 tons per day | 59,616 tons per month | 7, 15,393 per year
Statement 2: If 80 % of plastic waste is recycled in Dharavi:
Given that the country has witnessed a substantial growth in the consumption of plastics, we have calculated 60% as plastic waste of the total dry waste, based on our field work in Bangalore
So of the 2484 tons of dry waste if 60% is plastic, it is about 1490.4 tons of plastic
If Dharavi recycles 80% of Mumbai’s plastic, it will amount to 1192.3 tons per day| 35769.7 tons per month | 4, 29,235.2 tons per annum
A 1986 survey of Dharavi by the National Slum Dwellers Federation recorded 722 scrap and recycling units and the largest in India, employing over 5000 people with an estimated turnover of Rs. 60 lakhs a year. Using 1986 survey data as the base, if we were to extrapolate the data to current year with a reasonable growth rate to existing numbers shop the current revenue will be estimated 34 crores a year (recovery value)
Given the above numbers, if we were to calculate savings for the municipality – again in absence of official figures, even if we assume that Mumbai spends Rs. 1500 per tonne on SWM collection, transportation, treatment and disposal, though Bangalore spends higher, 80% of waste recycled will be saving the Municipality 107 crores and if we take 80% of total plastic recycled, the savings are about 64 crores a year.
So all in all we are looking at the same recyclable material having a potential of a revenue generation of 34 crores versus a sink of 64 crores to collect, transport and dump waste. As we make our way out of Dharavi, following the other areas and the residential block, the question lingers on…Why don’t we have a recycling policy in India?
Special acknowledgement to Mohammed’s Dharavi Slum Tours and Sandya Narayanan.