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Spatial Ethnography Lab & Terreform commented on Tanks & Berms: Estuary as Resilience Engine

Chioma Ume 
The tanks are adjacent to Dharavi’s waste-to-factory industrial clusters. These clusters upcycle salvaged plastics, metals, and glass into regional and global market regimes and use the wetlands as dumping grounds for heavy metals and chemical runoff. The project’s business plan is incremental and builds upon the concept of infrastructure trusts that are based on the ‘impact investing’ of philantrocapitalism that informs new legal regulations governing Corporate Social Responsibility in India.

1. We would initially seek small grants from the informal industrial associations within Dharavi and seek matching CSR funds to support dredging activities and water treatment using vegetal remediation techniques.

2. Sale of dredged materials - including recyclables to the industrial associations and nightsoil to fertilizer manufacturers – who would then continue to support these activities.

3. In the third phase we will begin to generate wave energy and use that to increase water treatment capacity.

4. In the next phase we will seek to set up an infrastructure trust including the Koli community and local entrepreneurs as well as corporate investors to create a sustainable fund of subsidies for the expanded activities around the tanks.

5. Additional income generated from pisciculture and agriculture as well as from sale of materials will continue to sustain the activities around the tanks even as their impact on flood prevention and climate resilience becomes demonstrable over a five year cycle.


On 26 July 2005, record flooding of 34 mm rainfall per hour over 24 hours overwhelmed the municipal storm water drainage capacity of 25mm per hour. With heightened berms, the existing tanks could hold a combined 89,230 cubic meters of water for slow release during storm surge events. Infrastructural upgradations can be facilitated by technical experts under the guidance of the infrastructure trust.

We envision this project as a prototype whose demonstrable success could alter the imaginary around latent opportunities in Mumbai’s resilience to climate change. We can only speculate on how the social dynamics and the dynamics around power might change over time with such project. The most important change might be in the making visible the role of poor communities and their ongoing stewardship of resources crucial to the city as a whole. Secondly, this project may also impact the plans for Dharavi’s redevelopment, requiring the state to consider ecological services and the livelihoods of residents as part and parcel of the plans for the area as a whole. Thus far, the DRP is focused on land and property creation, with little thought for the potential role of the wetlands. We believe that increased construction in this vulnerable area will be a disaster for the city as a whole. The prototype we are developing, on the other hand, might suggest other ways of transforming Dharavi, not as a land bank but rather as an infrastructure bank for the city as a whole. We believe that the tanks and berms project has limited potential for becoming a high investment/high return activity. Its impact is rather on the imagination around resources and an alternative economy based on energy, artfulness, entrepreneurship and the creative stewardship of ecological and man-made resources as infrastructure. Since Dharavi’s social dynamics are already poised for change through the DRP plans which will eliminate much of the neighborhood’s industrial activities in the near future, we believe this is the right time to initiate this project’s five year prototype to pave the way for synergies between the development of land and the development of the adjacent wetlands.

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Spatial Ethnography Lab & Terreform commented on Tanks & Berms: Estuary as Resilience Engine

@Chioma Ume

Dharavi Koliwada is a part of the dynamic, industrial settlement of Dharavi. Incrementally developed since the early 20th century, Dharavi encompasses several industrial clusters dealing with plastic, metal and glass recycling, textile and leather manufacture, food production and pottery along with several other specialized industries such as surgical suture manufacture and crafts associated with seasonal religious festivals. Since 2004, the settlement has been designated as a special planning zone under the supervision of the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP), a state government body charged with drawing plans for the redevelopment of the neighborhood as a whole. Surveying associated with the DRP establishes land ownership and property rights as well as appropriate compensation criteria for slum dwellers who must be moved so that the entire 550 acre locality can be redeveloped as a whole.

Dharavi Koliwada is not officially a part of the DRP though it is adjacent to the DRP planning area. Its residents are protected from displacement both as a protected tribal community and as residents of an urban village having special development rules. The DRP plans will inevitably affect both the Koliwada as well as the portions of the wetlands that are occupied by the tanks as they introduce massive amounts of new construction activity and new patterns of settlement within the territory of Dharavi. However the DRP is solely focused on the development of land for residential and commercial purposes - its plans do not extent to adjacent wetlands. Those wetlands come under various competing city and state bureaucracies.

The tanks and berms that form the focus of this project are protected within a legal exception. Their control rests with the Koli community whose stewardship is protected under a grandfathered legal clause that safeguards their cultivation rights over the tanks. These rights do not preclude, inter alia, the alteration of flows within and around the tanks as needed to support fish farming. This project exploits the loophole that provides control over the tanks to the Koli community, both to alter the dynamics of flows within the tanks and also to expand the tanks’ functions. Feedback from the community suggests that tank-based water treatment and the dredging of nightsoil deposits will directly benefit fish farming and that those activities will come directly within the purview of the tanks’ present functions. Dredging activities will deepen holding capacity within the legal boundaries of the tanks without directly altering the flow of water in the municipally controlled channels outside. Thus these activities will have the dual function of supporting Koli livelihoods whilst cleaning and altering the ecology of the tanks and the mangrove forests within which they are situated.

Our research over the last decade has indicated that cities like Mumbai have specific cultures of change - change is stealthy and exploits loopholes rather than taking place through planned policy pathways. Policies often follow in the wake of stealthy prototypes that demonstrate the capacity for positive transformation. Our project reflects this culture of change both in its form and its practice. The project depends on the civic activism of the Kolis themselves and is modeled along the lines of other civic initiatives such as the NGO SAVE (Save Andheri-Versova Enviroment Forum), which is dedicated to rebuilding the mangrove forests through replanting campaigns and by monitoring enchroachment along the Andheri-Versova waterfront in North-West Mumbai. Their tactics populate the wetlands with public activities that then prevent builders and developers from cutting the mangrove trees, filling the water with debris, and creating additional land for construction. The tanks and berms project also follows this model for altering flows - it is legally safeguarded through the rights of the Koli community over the parts of the wetlands occupied by the tanks as well as providing a stage for the community to demonstrate the city-wide benefits of activities associated with their livelihoods.