Fire At Mumbai’s Dharavi Is ‘Man-Made’ Not Accidental: Residents

Mumbai: Fire at Dharavi during wee hours of February 22, saw nearly 100 shanties gutted, which according to residents is an attempt to ensure that they leave the area.

A view of Dharavi slums, Mumbai. A redevelopment project for Dharavi slum is stuck for over a decade

When an area stands at the cusp of redevelopment, any incident which is out of the normal is viewed with suspicion. 

The fire at Kamala Nagar, located within Dharavi , last week, is one such incident that has raised the antennae of the residents of Dharavi – Asia’s largest slum that is negotiating the intricacies of going under the redevelopment hammer. 

Despite the efforts of the Maharashtra Government, past and present, developers – individually or as a consortium – have shown an unwillingness to take up redevelopment here due to the complexities of the negotiating with the slum dwellers at Dharavi.

Therefore, the fire in the wee hours of February 22, saw nearly 100 shanties gutted, is, according to residents, an attempt to ensure that they leave the area. 

Located within Dharavi , the area with its maze of by-lanes, is home to the poorest of those who have made Dharavi their home. While elsewhere in Dharavi, there are cement structures set in neat surroundings, the shanties that were burnt down showcased the poverty of its residents.

There are cluttered and congested rows of shanties, some with their blue plastic sheets to keep away the rain waters during Mumbai’s harsh monsoon months, standing under the blazing heat of the sun. 

The 12 fire tenders and an equal number of jumbo water tankers that tried to contain the blaze in over seven hours of operation, faced a tough challenge due to the cheek-by-jowl location of the hutments. 

“We have lost everything,” said Vaishali Dhomare whose hut was completely gutted. “We cannot live here, everything is gone. We have no clothes, vessels or any other belongings,” she told Outlook walking away from the area. 

While the fire brigade, police and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) are noncommittal about the cause of fire – stating the often repeated fact that it could be due to a LPG cylinder – many residents told Outlook that it was a man-made fire and not an accidental one. 

Kamala Nagar also has several two and three storey structures that are used as godowns to store clothing material. There is also a garment factory located in the area. Tangled electrical wires hanging in a haphazard manner stretch as far as the eye can see.  

The gutted properties also included offices of some NGOs who operated self-help groups for the women in the area. There are other partially gutted structures that used to operate tailoring businesses. There are also numerous recycling units located here. Though, according to BMC sources the number of residents in Dharavi number eight lakh, the numbers can be much higher as there are many who live here without either Aadhar card or a ration card. Though the Dharavi model of development is much talked about, it is stalked by unemployment and hunger. The lack of basic necessities has added to the filth of the area.   

In January this year, the residents of Dharavi protested against the proposed redevelopment of the area by the Adani Group. Towards the end of December 2022, the Adani Group – one of the largest business conglomerates in the country – had won the bid to redevelop Dharavi. Situated on prime commercial land in Mumbai, Dharavi is close to the swanky developing business district BKC or the Bandra Kurla Complex. This urban renewal project which will see redevelopment of an estimated 260 hectares is likely to displace nearly 70,000 families, said sources. 

Dharavi is also a popular slum tourism locale with numerous travel companies promoting the same. Films including Slumdog Millionaire, Gully Boy, Dharavi Bank (MX Player series) and the Rajnikanth starrer Kaala showcase Dharavi. A music band Dharavi Rocks with a majority of rag pickers, is also very popular.