Tata Group Chairman Emeritus, and pride of our community, Ratan Tata on 20th April, 2020, while sharing his views in a virtual panel discussion on the ‘Future of Design and Construction’ described the unorganised sprawl of Dharavi in the heart of Mumbai, where experts most fear the spread of the Coronavirus, as a “wake-up call,” for planners and administrators struggling to contain the pandemic through social distancing. The statement was made in reference to Dharavi’s reality of nearly eight to nine lakh people crammed into a 2.5-sq-km area, giving rise to the world’s highest population density
The Covid-19 outbreak had served to underscore a crisis in housing, which deprived lakhs of Mumbai’s residents of fresh air and open space, he said on the panel discussion, watched by thousands, online. “We do design for high-value housing and provide in the slums, the residue. We should be ashamed because we have the image we want to project of ourselves and there’s a part we want to hide. We are offended when people criticise it, but we have social responsibilities as architects and builders. The corona issue is a wake-up call of what beholds us. What our concern is that it turns around and bites us,” said Tata, not mincing his words about the grave condition of the slum-dwellers. “Their occupants live on top of each other in a manner of speaking,” he added, referring to the multi-storeyed slum structures in the precinct. “We as architects and developers have been satisfied to do (that).”
A trained architect himself, Tata expressed regret at not being able to practise architecture except for two years in Los Angeles. Continuing his talk on this discussion organised by CorpGini, a global innovation platform, Tata questioned the policy of removing slums and shifting the occupants into narrow, high-density structures, 20-30 miles away. “For the first time, the close proximity, low-value structures we have built are the cause of new problems. The last few months have taught us that we are suffering from close proximity. I think there should be re-examination of what we consider to be acceptable standards in terms of quality of life,” he said.
While high-value housing is put on slum land, the residue is like “putting the garbage together and calling it a community, making it difficult to survive,” he said, referring to slum rehabilitation policies. “Perhaps, there ought to be a revision in terms of the fact that we are dealing with communities, we’re dealing with populations that need to be a part of new India. We are creating a community which we are ashamed of. We should be really driven by the desire of creating a world culture,” he emphasized.
“In the last few months, we have been humbled to realise that a disease could run across the globe… I think we have to consider this issue as being our problem and not their problem. We need to concern ourselves with the quality of lives everywhere. We need to ask ourselves, are we ashamed of what we see or proud of what we see? We need to consider urban communities as one. We need to look at the possibility of ownership of slums rather than rentals. We need to be ashamed of what we’re doing and we need to focus on considerably being proud of what we’re doing. Mumbai and Maharashtra need to be proud of the transition that they make. And the transition needs to be real,” he concluded, leaving all with lots of food for thought.
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