History of Growth of Slum in Dharavi
Dharavi, located on the northernmost tip of Mumbai island City, was the home of the Koli fishing community and the Mahim Creek was their source of fish and livelihood for centuries. Indeed, one of the Bombay Gazetteers mentions Dharavi as one of the ‘six great Koliwadas of Bombay’.
The Portuguese were the first colonists to stake their claim to the seven islands of Bombay in the 16th century: they built a small fort and church at Bandra, on the opposite shore from Dharavi. The years passed, the Koli fishermen continued to fish in the Creek. The Riwa (Rehwa) Fort at Dharavi, locally known as ‘Kala Qilla’, was built in 1737 by the second British governor of Bombay, Gerald Aungier, on the banks of the Mithi River. It was part of the larger British-built Bombay Castle.
The growth of Dharavi is closely interwoven with the pattern of migration into Bombay. The first people to settle there did so because the land, mainly used as an informal rubbish dump, was free and unregulated. The marshy land slowly grew more solid but even till the mid-1900s, parts were so wet, people had to build foot-bridges to cross over.
By end-1800s, the potters from Saurashtra were relocated here and set up their colony (Kumbharwada), as also the Muslim leather tanners from Tamilnadu (because of the proximity of the abattoir in Bandra). Artisans and embroidery workers from Uttar Pradesh started the ready-made garments trade, and Tamilians set up a flourishing business, making savories and sweets. This way, Mumbai being the commercial capital of the country with unlimited opportunity for employment attracted people from all parts of the country, irrespective of region, caste, religion. Most of the land in Dharavi is owned by government and government agencies and so was the most suitable for the migrants to encroach and setup informal settlement. Dharavi thus became an amazing mosaic of villages and townships from all over India belonging to different religions, languages, and entrepreneurs, all surviving shoulder to shoulder.
As long as Dharavi was on the edge of the city, the main city was not affected much by the squatters and their activities. But as Mumbai expanded northwards and its population grew with new industries, the pressure on land increased, and Dharavi was drawn into the heart of the city. Once Dharavi was a swamp, fishing village. Today it is a slum or rather collection of slums.Majority of land ownership was with Govt. and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). Slum dwellers squatted on these lands and built hutments in haphazard manner. An Act called the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971 was passed. Improvement works were defined therein. A census of hutments was carried out in 1976 and photo-passes were issued to slum families. Its people were provided with taps, toilets and electrical connections as part of slum improvement measures. The Sion-Mahim Link road, the 60 feet and 90 feet roads, were all built around this time; sewer and water lines were laid down. Transit Camps were built to relocate people whose homes came in the way of new roads and other infrastructural projects.