Squatter settlements in Mumbai, India

Mumbai is an important port city on the northwest coast of India and is the state capital of Maharashtra. It operates as the commercial capital of India, it is important for manufacturing and finance and it is also the home of 'Bollywood' films.

Over 20 million people lived in Mumbai in 2016, compared to less than 10 million in 1991. It is one of the most densely populated megacities in the world, particularly the Island City sector with a population density of 43,000 people per square kilometre.

Mumbai has had a high level of natural increase, as well as enormous rural to urban migration. A consequence of such rapid urbanisation is the development of squatter settlements.

In Mumbai the squatter settlement of Dharavi is now home to over 1 million people. Many are second-generation families. Dharavi lies between two railway lines on low-lying land, previously used as a rubbish tip, and is one of the biggest squatter settlements in the world. The squatter settlement is unplanned and has these characteristics:

  • it is overcrowded, noisy and smelly
  • many houses are made from cardboard, wood, corrugated iron, plastic sheeting or metal from oil drums
  • houses become more substantial and permanent towards Dharavi's centre
  • a lack of sanitation and clean drinking water for most residents
  • pollution and disease are common from the open sewers - there are an average of 4,000 cases of typhoid and diphtheria each day
  • thousands of workshops and people are employed in the informal job sector - 75% of people have a job and most work locally, with an annual turnover of £350 million
  • a strong sense of community spirit and pride
A photo of Dharavi, Mumbai.
A street in Dharavi, Mumbai, India

Future plans for Dharavi

Squatter settlements can be improved through urban planning. The plan to improve Dharavi is called Vision Mumbai. This involves replacing squatter settlement housing with high quality high-rise tower blocks of flats. The Indian government also wants to add basic services, more schools, health centres, shops, better roads and more jobs. The improvement of Dharavi has not yet begun due to costs (estimated at about £2 billion) and the size of the problems.

Many residents favour local, smaller-scale improvements. Local communities would remain intact and planning would involve ideas from the residents. This approach has lower costs than Vision Mumbai and is more sustainable.

Dharavi could copy the improvement approach, this approach worked in Rocinha, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the residents themselves improved the squatter settlements or 'favelas'. This is called a self-help scheme.