Tiwari, Meera (2017). 'The capability landscape of the invisibile workers of India's financial capital' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


The notion of two Indias is not more visible in any other city than Mumbai, also know as the financial capital of India. It is increasingly finding entry into the debates on expanding social and economic inequalities (McFarlane 2013) as the country settles into the club of middle income countries. While India continues to be home to the: largest number of $1.90 a day poor, highest number of malnutrioned children in the world with dismal child and maternal mortality figures, it is also home to the world’s sixth largest number of billionaires. Over  55% of  Mumbai's population is forced to live in slums occupying just 6% of total land area (MCGM 2010), with high levels of multidimensional deprivations. The slum dwellers of Mumbai comprise an ecclectic community of highly productive workforce mostly belonging to the informal sector (Davis 2007). These range from self employed hawkers, taxi drivers, individual suppliers in value chain of textiles, leather industry, handicrafts, household plastic goods and jewellery to name a few. While they are not high earners, and neither can they be placed in India's expanding middle class, they live  above the $1.90 poverty line albeit in a low wage, 'just getting by' equilibrium. Within an unstructured and harsh working environment (Fakier and Ehmke 2014), they live in constant housing insecurity because of eviction fears and demolition. The slum dwellers largely remain invisible to the decision makers and developmental planners of the city becoming visible when the land occupied by them is either needed for expansion of infrastructure or when it becomes inhabitable and fit for gentrification (Doshi 2013).

The paradoxical reality of opulence, economic opportunities and poverty is more visible in Mumbai than in other city (Swaminathan, 1995). This context provides insighful dimensions of the changing capabilities of these invisible workers. While the landscsape to expand their economic capabilities remains vibrant within Mumbai's burgeoning industrial, manufacturing and financial terrain, their social capabilites appear to be fragile and deteriorating. The human centerd conceptualisation of development within the capability approach (CA) is thus challenged in the slums of Mumbai. Further, Mumbai's consolidation as the biggest economic hub of the country continues to strengthen resulting in expanding work opportiunities especially in the informal sector to support the upward economic growth trajectory of the city. Hence the economic gains remain appealing to the slum population despite the dwindling social capabilities of housing, health, water, sanitation and clean environment.

            The proposed paper is empirical in nature. It draws attention to the high levels of deprivations in the slums of Mumbai located adjacent to the largest dump, Deonar Dumping Ground, in the city. It examines the economic and the social capabilities of the slum dwellers to analyse the causes for the sharp deterioration in the social capabilities and how the inhabitants view their situation. The study is based on primary surveys of 200 household designed to gauge the multidimensionality of poverty in urban slums. Using mixed methodology including the MPI (Multidimensional Poverty Index) to capture the multiple deprivations, it explores the economic and social circumstances of these communities. A review of the public policy context for improving the lives of the slum dwellers in line with the contested understandings, definitional agreements and measurements of urban poverty is undertaken. An attempt is made to map the policy provisions to the lives of the slum communities with the objective of assessing the levels of policy implementation and uptake. The study is timely and central to the Sustainable Development Goals launched in 2015 that pledged focused attention to urban poverty through Goal 11: ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable’ (UN 2015).

 Key words: slum-poverty, economic and social capabilities, Mumbai

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