It is 2008. Many streets in Dharavi have no pavement. They are just open dirt and gravel. The encompassing Sion-Bandra Linkroad is appropriately paved, as is the Dharavi-crossing 90-Feet Road. The remainder of the streets is partly paved, partly sealed with stones and gravel, or not sealed at all. This has dramatic effects on daily routines. First, traffic is compromised. Walking over loose laying stones is far from comfortable. The accessibility of shops and workshops is hindered. Second, the open streets are a source of loose sand and dirt creeping into everything, everywhere. Everything in the neighbourhood is covered with a thick layer of brown dirt. This dirt only disappears when rains wash it all away during monsoon. In the nine months between monsoons, the dirt steadily accumulates. Then, during monsoon, the dirt roads turn into mud pools. An unexpected advantage of the open soil is its capacity to absorb the water rapidly. Whereas many cities suffer flooding drains, dehydration of the underground, and falling of the water table, the open structure of the roads in Dharavi is a blessing for groundwater.

Cleaning up a dirt road is not an easy task. To sweep litter from stones and gravel is quite an effort. Bearing that in mind the image of an average street in Dharavi is a miracle. A crowded street inevitably is littered during the day, certainly in an overcrowded area. Considering the fact that there is very little waste and litter to be seen, these people must be very tidy. If they were not, the street would be paved with a layer of garbage by now, instead of dirt and gravel.

Apparently, people litter near to nothing and sweeping is carried out regularly. Goats and dogs pick out the bio-waste quickly and efficiently. Burnable waste is collected and used as fuel. PET-bottles and metals are collected by the highly sophisticated recycling industry.

The lack of pavement is a symptom of a local government unable or unwilling to create communal provisions. As most of Dharavi consists of informal settlements, that formally do not exist, the government does not consider it its task to provide infrastructure and services. In addition, the local government lacks manpower and means to create infrastructure, education and health care of reasonable standards. It is a chicken-and-egg-dilemma. The registration office of the municipality is understaffed. As many residents have no access to the formal system of the city, they cannot be registered. Tax collection on these people is impossible, leaving the municipality with too little means to improve the registration office, let alone to spend money on infrastructure. As a result, many in Dharavi do not pay taxes and the money stays among the people. The void left here by the government is sometimes filled by civic communities, who organise things on their own account. This is how schools and other provisions are created. In worst cases, criminals fill the managerial vacuum.

The potential of self-organisation in a society, of course has its limitations. Whereas the scale of problem increases in terms of numbers of people, the feasibility rapidly deteriorates. The paving over of a big street has that many stakeholders that it cannot be organized by local groups. Parents collectively founding a school for their children can be overseen, but a street to which indeed ten thousand people should contribute, is a different thing. Paradoxically the feasibility of a communal provision decreases when the number of potential contributors rises.

Pavement in alleys is for that reason a lesser problem. Scale is on the advantage here. Many alleys are hardly a meter wide and inhabitants on both sides often join their efforts to lay pavement. This being fairly easy has to do with the small number of stakeholders who, in addition, enjoy a direct effect.

At the crossing of alleys and spots with uneven levels, the results may vary in quality. Especially pipe laying in paved alleys will end in odd results. Breaking up the neat pavement made by the neighbour is indeed not the best way to make friends. The increase of the length of the pipe also increases the number of people involved, thus decreasing chances for a good solution. It happens that water piping is laid in wastewater gutters. One might wonder why water piping is not mounted a bit higher; let us say above doorway level. It would be more convenient for pedestrians.

On locations where the municipality is active, one finds good pavement. Chawls are dwellings developed by municipalities or housing-corporations. The communal character of these buildings can easily be recognized by the roof shape. The uniform way of building creates a continuous roof over multiple houses. Individually developed houses have independent roofs. Exterior space is an important part of housing and in chawls this space is in general properly developed. Chawl-dwellers are keen on distinguishing their housing from the informal settlements around. The formal context in which chawls are created has no similarities with informal development, which is generally built on individual initiative and without a legal context.

On any location lacking collective provisions, that is about everywhere in slum, the lack of proper pavement has dramatic effects. It is needless to explain that such obstructions right in front of one’s company is bad for everything. Both customers and enterprise are not helped by it, to say the least. It remains unclear why entrepreneurs barely take initiative and at least pave the part in front of their business.

A small piece of pavement made of broken millstones.

These photocompositions of reality and fictional pavement were used in a 2008 study on the costs of proper pavement. The pavement of all streets in Koliwada, the oldest part of Dharavi, would require an investment per capita the equivalent of two small bottles of soft drink.

By the end of 2009, a considerable area was paved. The area near Sion station, the Dharavi Main Road through Koliwada, and other roads. The positive effect is dramatic and underscores the importance of proper infrastructure. Making pavement alone is not enough. Once it is there, it will be opened to allow water pipe laying and so. Closing the pavement afterwards is often done sloppy. Maintenance is as important as the initial making.

The situation in the street is worsened by digging works remaining open too long. This problem stretches beyond Dharavi. On many locations in Mumbai pavement lies open while carrying out of works is not seen anywhere in the wider vicinity.

In the old centre of Mumbai, it shows that entrance lanes to buildings create large interruptions of the sidewalk. This practice is so frequent that the sidewalk lost its continuity. One finds loose pieces of sidewalk, alternating with all kinds of entrances. Some are paved neatly, others are half sealed with gravel, and many are no more than bare ground.

Walking old Mumbai has its ups and downs.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great article - wonderful photographs!