Globalizing Marginality: Spatial Politics of 21st Century Mumbai

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

posted under , , by Unit for Criticism
Editor's Note: This paper is from the recent Megacities: Agglomerating Culures, Media, and Infrastructures panel sponsored by the Unit for Criticism.

Written by Ravi Ghadge, Sociology

I am convinced that a historic opportunity for the revamping of Mumbai presents itself before us today. Mumbai can emerge as a new financial capital of Asia, and be the bridge between Asia and the West in the world of finance….I do believe that Mumbai can learn from Shanghai’s experience in reinventing itself; in rebuilding itself; in rediscovering itself. I urge every Mumbaikar to transform this city from being a Gateway to India to becoming a Gateway to Asia!

-Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India.

The dawn of the 21st Century is marked by an “urban turn” with the city becoming important both as a place, and as a site of discourse in social sciences and policy making. Demographically, for the first time in human history the urban population of the earth has outnumbered the rural. Cities are growing by 60 million per year and 90 percent of this increase in the next generation will be concentrated in cities of Africa and Asia (Davis 2004). Further, in the last twenty years, major cities have assumed central importance in the organization of the world economy through a network of a globally integrated economic system (Sassen 1991; 2000).

As a site of discourse, on the one hand, city is becoming an important area of research in the social sciences, primarily due to its strategic role in expressing the dialectics between the global and the local. In the West, the “world city” (Friedmann and Wolff 1982; Friedmann 1995a [1986]) and the “global city” (Sassen 1991, 2001) have become hegemonic discourses that advocate a place-centric analysis of globalization. Similarly, in countries like India, it is also observed that there is a “noticeable surge in the attention paid by scholars and activists to city life” (Prakash 2002). On the other hand, “world” and “global” city have become policy tools to direct and justify restructuring of urban space, especially in cities of the South.
Along with this “urban turn,” financial globalization has led to a shift in the geography of global capitalism. China and India (on the basis of their impressive growth rates) are being touted as emerging economic giants of the 21st century. While, this has become a cause of celebration in the popular media and the government, this “growth” is accompanied by a deepening of rural and urban poverty in these emerging societies (Nederveen Pieterse 2007).

In these contexts, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the ongoing dynamics of cities in the South, such as Mumbai, which are viewed by urban planners as “engines” and “laboratories” of maximizing growth in contemporary globalization. This article highlights some of the contradictions and dilemmas associated with such “growth” in contemporary Mumbai. It critically analyzes some of the recent policies and projects related to spatial transformation of Mumbai aimed at converting it into a “world class” city. Later, it engages with some of the debates on politics of space and citizenship engendered by these spatial practices. The term globalizing marginality is used to explain the Janus-faced nature of this urbanism.

There are several approaches that use metaphors of circulation, flows, and geographical mobility to understand contemporary globalization (Castells 1989; Appadurai 1990). However, this article uses the “production of space” perspective to understand the contemporary situation in Mumbai as it not only adds “social thickness” to the study of globalization, but is also more sensitive to the logic and process of spatial reorganization of cities (especially in the South) in the contemporary global context.

1. Globalization and Production of Space

Space has become an important dimension of research in contemporary globalization. The “spatial turn” in social sciences can be seen in the use of terms such as “space-time compression” (Harvey 1989), “space of flows” (Castells 1989), “scapes” (Appadurai 1990). Even though the importance of spatiality is acknowledged in most critical studies of globalization, Brenner (1999) asserts that they are dominated by a “state-centric epistemology,” premised on a “state-as-container” model that understands space as timeless, unchanging, unhistorical, self-enclosed, and territorially bounded. Essentially, he argues that with the increasing interconnectedness of social relations on a global scale, space should not be understood as a “static platform of social relations,” but as “one of the constitutive elements of globalization, historically produced, reconfigured, and transformed.” Thus, against a state-centric understanding of globalization, there is a need to adopt a “multi-scalar process” in which states play crucial roles (ibid.: 42).

Since 1970s, our world is characterized by increasing internationalization of production, growth in transport and communication technologies, and mobility of capital. This has resulted in many “deterritorialist” accounts that have announced a decline, erosion, or disempowerment of the state. However, as Brenner (1999) argues, contemporary globalization can be understood as the most recent historical expression of a longue durèe dynamic of continual process of dispersal and concentration that characterizes the geography of global capitalism. On the one hand, contemporary globalization is eliminating geographical barriers to capitalist accumulation, leading to dispersal of capital. On the other hand, this mobility of capital is premised on the production of relative stable and immobile geographical landscapes such as the built environments, transportation infrastructure, production and business complexes, and communication networks. In Brenner’s words, “social space operates at once as a presupposition, medium, and outcome of capitalism’s globalizing developmental dynamic…[and is] continually constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed through historically specific, multi-scalar dialectic of de- and re-territorialization” (ibid.: 43).

Since early 1970s, we find a reconfiguration of the economic and political structures at global, national, regional, and urban scales. At the urban scale (which is of most relevance here), we witness a shift toward services and finance and new forms of agglomeration in top-level management and control operations. Cities, particularly “global cities,” have emerged as important command points of the world economy. They have become key destinations for production of finance and specialized services for various firms. These cities are engaged with each other in what constitutes as “new geographies of centrality” that connects major international financial and business centers such as New York, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Honk Kong among several others. Adding to this network are also some cities in the South such Sao Paulo, Mexico, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, and Seoul (Sassen 2000a: 5). However, the centralization of economic activity has also been accompanied by marginalization of previously dominant manufacturing cities. This has led to new economic inequalities between and within cities.

In order to promote this geographical re-concentration of capital, national and local governments have introduced new strategies of urban development and regulations. Through this processes of “re-regulation,” states promote globalization and create favorable investment environments. Therefore, the “rescaling of state” is not a defensive response to globalization, but a “concerted strategy to create new scales of state regulation to facilitate and coordinate the globalization process” (Brenner 1999: 66). The competitive climate of globalization within which cities compete for foreign capital has led to devolution of state power to regional and urban scales, seen in large-scale infrastructure projects or entrepreneurial initiatives such as public-private partnerships. Thus, we find that contemporary globalization has introduced new forms of accumulative processes inherently tied with reorganization of urban space in which global economic processes and local actors are mutually constituted.

However, the process of production and reconstruction of space is a contested one and is bound to generate urban conflicts. By linking the concept of collective consumption to social movements, Castells’ (1983) argues that the city is organized around the provision of basic services necessary for social reproduction such as housing, health care, and transportation. State plays a very important role in providing the basic urban infrastructure. Especially in relation to the cities of the South, urban social movements arise as a result of “urban contradictions” related to production, distribution, and management of collective consumption of goods and services. Such urban crises marginalize the “urban poor” in the informal economies who become the target of urban policies geared toward the city elite, the prime beneficiaries of globalization. The “new social movements” emerge around various issues, women’s rights, environment, housing, water, or sanitation. Thus, the production of space is not a result of a unilateral impact of global economic forces on the urban environment, but is a contested and negotiated process in which social movements subvert or challenge these hegemonic processes. The role of the state in this context is to balance its role of being a facilitator of capital creating an investment friendly environment (infrastructure, world class commercial and residential spaces, beautified parks, malls, and so on), while at the same time it cannot afford to ignore the mass sections of the urban poor affected by various urban redevelopment projects.

2. The case of Bombay/Mumbai

The contemporary situation in India, in general, and Mumbai, in particular, reflects the Janus-faced nature of 21st century globalization. This can be seen in the contradictory reports in newspapers on the contemporary urban realities in India. On the one hand, the local newspapers supply the readers with the daily dose of growth boosterism regarding India or Mumbai. To highlight this point, what follows is a summary of some of the news reports or articles in the leading newspaper of India, The Times of India.
-According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), by 2025, India will emerge as the world’s fifth largest consumer market overtaking Germany with only the US, Japan, China, and UK ahead of it.
-Financial consultants at Goldman Sachs predict that the Indian banking sector could surpass USA by 2050 and consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) predicts that India’s domestic banking industry could become the third largest by 2040. -In another study, PWC presents data on city economies based on GDP at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) and argues that Mumbai will emerge as the top 30 fastest growing cities in the world by 2020 to the 24th position from its 37th position in 2005 (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2007).
-A MasterCard “worldwide” survey puts Mumbai in the top ten financial hubs list along with cities like London, New York, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Frankfurt, Madrid, and Milan.
-An OECD study on the BRIC countries reveals that India generated 11.3 million new jobs annually between 2000 and 2005, more than China, OECD countries, Brazil and Russia (more than half of the BRIC countries). (However, the same report also points out that these figures mask the large section of unemployed particularly in the rural areas, which in India it estimates to be around 130 million).
-According to the World Wealth Report prepared by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, the number of millionaires in India grew from 83,000 in 2005 to 100,015 in 2006, which makes Indians the second fastest growing group of wealthy people in the world, marginally behind Singapore. The same report mentions that these 100,000 millionaires account for 1/10th of the country’s GDP.

On the other hand, there are also news reports that present a more somber picture of the cities in Asia and Africa. For example, in an article, “Are slums the future of the city?” the author writes, “Forget about Utopia or even the dystopian Los Angeles depicted in Blade Runner. The future of the city is a vast Third World Slum.” The same article informs that by 2030, around 5 billion of the world’s 8.1 billion people will live in cities and about 2 billion of them will live in slums. Most of these people, living in the colonias, favelas, or zopadpattis of the world, will be exposed to conditions of inadequate drinking water, public toilets, housing, disease, crime, urban poverty, and illegality. In Mumbai (expected to become the second most populated city in the world by 2020, behind Tokyo) more than 50 per cent of the population lives in slums.

How do we understand such contradictions? Are they new? Are such contradictions increasing in the context of contemporary globalization? Most studies on globalization and cities of the South are “presentist” in nature and ignore the longue durèe approach in understanding cities (Davis 2005) and do not take into account the diversity of experience of cities (Robinson 2002; Shatkin 2007). In terms of this paper, even though many of the contradictions in Mumbai have been intensified by contemporary globalization, we cannot ignore the specific colonial and postcolonial histories on which such processes are mapped.

2.1 The historical context of Bombay/Mumbai

Bombay like some of the other big cities of India, such as Kolkata and Chennai, is a colonial city. However, unlike some of the other cities of the subcontinent such as Delhi, Agra, Lahore, Varanasi, Hyderabad, or Ahmedabad it has a relatively short history of urban settlement (Patel 2003, own italics). Even though Thana, the region north of Bombay, is noted in some accounts of Marco Polo, the Portuguese who occupied several islands in the region after 1532 did not consider Bombay of much strategic importance, unlike Goa or Calicut (Kooiman 1985). Bombay was transferred by the Portuguese to the British in 1661 as part of a dowry of Princess Katherine. Even by the late eighteenth century, Bombay was essentially a marine post with very few linkages with its hinterland.

Bombay’s initial development as an urban settlement is closely tied with British imperial interests in the colonial division of labor. Prior to Bombay, Calcutta was the main commercial node for the British; however, due to Bombay’s geographic proximity to Europe, its excellent natural harbor, and some fortuitous development in the world economy (such as the rise of world cotton prices due to the shortages caused by the American Civil War and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869) the city expanded economically. The East India Company (EIC) undertook major construction projects that connected the original seven islands. The city was also connected to the cotton-growing hinterland through railways. This led to the migration of several entrepreneurial groups from the neighboring Gujarat state, especially the Parsis and the Gujarati traders who later became the indigenous capitalists in the city. Along with these groups, Bombay also attracted some distressed migrants including peasants and agricultural workers from the hinterland who were displaced by recurrent famines and floods. Thus, colonial economic expansion transformed Bombay from an entrepôt to a manufacturing city (Patel 2003, Harris 1978).

Earlier Bombay’s economy was centered on export of cotton to China to settle EICs unfavorable balance of trade with China. However, in the middle of nineteenth century the indigenous entrepreneurs started manufacturing cotton textiles in Bombay. The development of spinning and weaving mills led to further migration of mill workers, particularly from the coastal areas of Konkan in the south. The first textile mill was established in 1856 and by the end of 1875, Bombay had 27 mills and by 1900 this number grew to 82. By the end of the nineteenth century, Bombay had established itself as an important commercial center in India. “It handled about two-fifths of the total value of India’s foreign trade, 70 percent of the value of the coastal trade and the bulk of the re-export trade to the Persian Gulf and to the Arab and East African ports” (Chandavarkar 1994: 25). The interwar period is considered to be a crucial period in the growth of the city. It is argued that the loosening of colonial ties during the interwar period led to increasing fortunes of the textile industry and the growth of its domestic market (Patel 2003). The textile industry became the largest employer in the city with its employment rising from 147,000 in 1921 to 136,000 in 1931 (Kooiman 1985). Much of the profits from the textile industry were reinvested in capital intensive industries such as engineering, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, food processing, and fertilizers (Patel 2003). This growth also fuelled a radical nationalist and working class movement in Bombay.

From 1960s, Bombay experienced major industrial restructuring which particularly affected the textile industry. There was a growth of new capital-intensive industries and this was visible in the form of greater productive capital than employment in the organized sector. From 1961 to 1981 the productive capital grew from Rs. 6 bn to Rs. 700 bn (van Wersch 1992:18). The decline of the textile industry was further hastened by the textile strike in 1982-83, at the end of which almost 100,000 workers were retrenched and a considerable amount of units were shut down. In 1976, 27 per cent of the city’s organized workforce was employed in the textile industry, this figure dropped to 12.5 per cent by 1991. Most workers who lost their jobs are believed to have been pushed into the informal economy.

Industrial restructuring led to a growth in the small-scale power loom sector supported by the state. The spurt in the growth of capital intensive power looms resulted in a loss of market share of the labor intensive mills. While the overall production of cotton cloth (produced in the cotton mills) remained stagnant during 1970-1987, the production of blended cloth kept growing from the 1970s. Even during the strike, the production of synthetic, man-made fiber grew as it was produced in the decentralized power loom sector that remained unaffected by the strike (van Wersch 1992). Along with declining share of production, the technological backwardness of textile mills further aggravated the situation. The obsolescence of the machinery used in spinning, weaving, and processing has been identified as one of the main causes of “sickness” in the industry. However, this technological backwardness is not new. The mill owners’ refusal to modernize the mills enabled their eventual closure and re-direction of investment in other profitable enterprises. Thus, in a way, the textile strike was a blessing in disguise for the mill owners as they could shut down the mills and reinvest the profits in more lucrative sectors of the new economy.
Some scholars argue that what happened in Bombay cannot be called deindustrialization, but spatial reorganization combined with an increasing expansion of the boundaries of the city (Patel 2003). Due to this process of spatial reorganization, the central parts of the city ceased to be the dominant regions of manufacturing as production was dispersed to the suburbs and other satellite centers (outside Greater Mumbai, but within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region) such as Thane, Kalyan, and Navi Mumbai. Because of this, the central parts of the city (including the mill district in Mumbai) have now become the epicenter of the new economy in Mumbai based on service industries including finance, tourism, retailing, and entertainment.

By early 1990s, this shift in the Mumbai’s economy toward jobs related to producer services becomes more visible.

By 1994, Bombay accounted for 61 per cent jobs in India’s oil sector, 41 per cent in domestic air traffic. Its airport handled 75 per cent of the country’s imports and 64 per cent of exports. Employment in financial and business services had increased by 43 per cent between the 1970s and 1980s. Bombay collected 25 per cent of India’s income tax revenues and 60 per cent of custom revenues. Its banks controlled 12 per cent of national deposits and a quarter of the country’s outstanding credits. The number of issues listed on the Bombay’s stock exchange grew from 203 in 1991-2 to 694 in 1993-4, and the amount of fresh capital in old and new companies increased from Rs 54 bn to 213 bn between
these years.

According to the Draft Regional Plan of the Mumbai Metropolitan Authority (MMRDA) published in 1995, the employment in manufacturing industries in Greater Mumbai has declined from 36 per cent in 1980 to 28.5 per cent in 1990, whereas employment in trade, finance, and service industries has increased from 52.1 per cent to 64.3 per cent during the same period (MMRDA 1985).

2.2 “World class” city: deconstructing the language of globalizing visions

From the above account it is clear that in the context of contemporary globalization, Mumbai is undergoing a shift from manufacturing to finance and services. Even though there is evidence to suggest that contemporary globalization began to impact Indian economy, in general, and Bombay, in particular, much earlier than 1990s, the formal inauguration of the structural adjustment policy in 1991 (or what is popularly referred to as liberalization) has further accentuated the process of spatial re-organization of the city.

In the post-liberalization years, urban planning in Mumbai is self-consciously geared toward “managing city space” in order to render it a “global” or “world class” status and to convert the city into a significant financial and service center at the cost of industrial decline in several areas (Banerjee-Guha 2002). Informally, this is also referred as the “Shanghai model” (Mahadevia 2006) and the introductory quote of this paper by the Prime Minister and the prime architect of the India’s liberalization policy in 1991 bears testimony to this. One of the central components of this “Shanghai Model” is deregulating public space in the city to increase the supply of land for commercial and high-end residential purposes. It is argued that deregulation will lead to convergence of the real-estate market in Mumbai with other global cities.

Before analyzing the specific policies, two immediate points: it is found that the process of exclusion and marginality in Mumbai is built into the very language of “developmental” visions conjured up by such policies, which intensify the already existing inequalities in the city between the elite and the urban poor. Moreover, “global or world class city” is no longer just an analytical tool to understand the role of select cities in the world economy, but is used as a benchmark or aspiration which is said to be achieved through fast growth policies. As King (2000: 266) aptly puts it, “the effect of the ‘world’ and ‘global city’ paradigm has been to prompt scholars as well as municipal officials worldwide to ask, ‘Is this, or is this not a ‘world city’?”
The MMRDA 1996-2011 Draft Plan, published in 1995, asserts that Mumbai can emerge as an “international city” based on “growth of financial and business services, and hi-tech, export-oriented industries” (MMRDA 1995: i). In order to do so, the plan recommends “increased investment by private sector in infrastructure and other developments, appropriate structural changes in the Region’s economy, and adoption of land use policies that respond to market potential” (1995: i). This implies removal of all regulatory, political, and infrastructural barriers that hinder the process of attaining “international city” status. In many ways, the plan replaces the objectives of earlier 1973 plan that emphasized dispersal and decentralization of industry and a much wider vision of providing infrastructure and employment to larger sections of the city.

In September 2003, the international consultancy firm McKinsey & Company published a report that provided a summary of recommendations to transform Mumbai into a “world class city.” The report claims that through its comprehensive vision, Mumbai can transform itself into a “world class city” within a 10-15 year time-frame (Bombay First 2003: vii). Some of its main recommendations are: increasing land availability by 50-70 per cent; constructing one million low-income housing units for slum-dwellers; creating “islands of excellence” (up-scale residential and commercial spaces); and redevelop the city block-by-block (2003: 20-23). The Government of Maharashtra (GOM) published its report in February 2004 and has endorsed the “Bombay First Report” even though in practice it may not accept some of its recommendations. These reports, especially “Bombay First,” have drawn considerable attention from a cross-section of the city including the media, academic community, activists, and policy makers.

Apart from the obvious “world class” rhetoric, we need to deconstruct the specific language of the above two policies in order to gain a deeper understanding on the rationale, logic, and the elitist (and west-centric, developmental) bias of such “growth.” In terms of the rationale for redevelopment of Mumbai, both reports employ a strategy of fear that describes Mumbai as a city heading towards a catastrophe. The contemporary moment is described as a “tipping point” in the history of Mumbai that warrant immediate implementation of the recommendations of the reports. The “Bombay First Report” mentions that “Mumbai is currently at a critical juncture. It must implement the eight initiatives outlined...and it must do it now. Otherwise it is in grave danger of collapsing completely” (2003: 2, own italics).The GOM report too uses a similar language: “Mumbai hovers perpetually on the brink of collapse…In this moment of promise and peril…if it neglects to change course, it risks entering the graveyard of failed cities…Mumbai stands in urgent need of a game plan” (2004: 2, own italics).

In terms of the logic of growth, the reports endorse fast growth policies that are expected to yield instant results. Thus, reform must come in “leaps,” “step jumps,” and “quick wins” through a “fast track” and not through “incremental changes.” Some of the examples of “quick wins,” that the GOM Report argues will help build credibility for change are: beautification of Marine Drive (one of the most up-scale locality in Mumbai), the “Mumbai Chakachak” clean-up project, and improving the airport ambience.

Finally, both the reports have a distinct elitist and west-centric bias and cater to sections of the city most connected to the emerging consumerist, high-wired economy. For example, some of the 23 “quick wins” listed by the “Bombay First Report” are: developing the downtown area (e.g., creating the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”); building world class multi-purpose indoor stadium, conventional center, and housing project; improving airport ambience; creating a world class commercial district with restaurants and cafes (2003:10,28). Further, the world class “standards or benchmarks” are based on “quantitative aspirations” derived from a survey of ten cities mostly in the West. Thus, growth and development is seen through a modernist lens that insists on “catching up” and filling the “gaps” between current (read underdeveloped) and world class standards (read Western). The elitist bias is also seen in the hegemonic “one vision for the city” that clearly differentiates between “city of slums” and “city of homes” (where slums are not considered as homes) and “low-value-added labor” and “high-value-talent.”

2.3 Projects, Displacements, and Politics

Moving beyond the policy rhetoric, we need to understand some of the projects which are currently underway in Mumbai that potentially intensify spatial inequalities. A key point to note here is that the manner in which global economic forces localize and get realized in various national and urban contexts depend on the specific economic and socio-spatial contexts. Thus, the deterritorialization associated with money and finance and its reterritorialization in global cities is not as seamless as it appears to be, but is mediated by local histories and geographies. Thus, the process of incorporation of global forces is a contested one, generating possibilities of alternative claims on space and citizenship (Sassen 2000b).

There are three large-scale development projects that have a direct bearing on urban space and thereby the marginalization of urban poor: slum rehabilitation, infrastructure development, and mill-land redevelopment.

2.3.1 Slum Redevelopment

There exists in Mumbai a hierarchical nature of housing options available to its citizens ranging from pavement dwellings, zopadpattis (informal squatter settlements), chawls (factory-owned low-income rental tenements), owned or rented flats, and fancy flats owned by the rich and the super rich (Appadurai 2000; Risbud 2003). Almost any major development project in Mumbai has to deal with the issue of rehabilitation of slums. According to some sources, about 50 per cent of Mumbai’s 12 million citizens live in slums or zopadpattyas or other inferior form of housing (10 per cent are said to pavement dwellers). However, slum dwellers occupy only about 8 per cent of city space, which is around 43,000 hectares. The current slum development policy in Mumbai is a variant of its earlier Slum Redevelopment (SRD) announced in 1991. As early as 1980s, it was suggested to the state government that private participation in slum development should be encouraged. In 1991, the state government accepted this proposal and deviated from its earlier pattern of public sector involvement in slum redevelopment (Risbud 2003). Later, in 1995, a new scheme was introduced called Slum Rehabilitation Scheme (SRS) based on public-private partnership. On paper, this plan appears to be democratic based on community participation in the rehabilitation program and seeking private builders to implement plans. However, in reality, the private builders use their economic power to influence the resettlement plans. The “private” participation in this process is not just limited to builders, but other non-state actors such as NGOs like Society for the Preservation of Area Resources Centers (SPARC) have begun to play an active mediatory role in the settlement process. This kind of network between slum dwellers, SRA, private builders, and the intermediary NGOs has led to “institutional pluralism” in the housing delivery system which has often lead to conflicts between different stakeholders (Sanyal and Mikhija 2001).

The “Bombay First Report” (2003) mentions that to put Mumbai on the course of development, the city has to free-up land by 50-70 per cent. Following this report, in 2004-2005 the state government through its battery of officials demolished 94,000 homes at 44 sites, “freeing-up” 288.80 acres of land. This was described as “Operation Shanghai” in the daily newspapers (Mahadevia 2006: 360-361). This incessant drive to free-up land “encroached” by illegal slums has introduced new legalities, technologies, and agencies to dissuade development of slums. It ranges from issuing photo-cards for slum dwellers to controlling urban space with cameras and “flying squads.” What is more disturbing is that the Citizens Action Group (CAG), another watchdog agency, recommended to monitor the process of urban redevelopment in Mumbai univocally endorsed these violent demolitions (Mahadevia 2003: 362).

The most central “developmental” project in Mumbai today is the development of 360 acres of Dharavi--Asia’s largest slum, which has also been proposed in the GOM Report (2004). Because of its proximity to the emerging business center at Bandra-Kurla Complex and its easy access to the airport, this is one of the most sought after real estates in Mumbai. The development of Dharavi has already attracted big national and international real estate companies-one each from the US, Kuwait, and Hong Kong and two from Dubai, one from Kuwait, and one from Hong Kong. However, there are protests from the residents for their non-involvement in the process of redevelopment.

2.3.2 Infrastructure development

Since 2002, there are two World Bank supported transportation projects that are currently underway in Mumbai--the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) and the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP). The MUTP is essentially related to mass transportation, while the objective of the MUIP is to augment the MUTP by improving road networks and traffic dispersal. Projects like the MUTP can enhance the public transport in Mumbai, especially the suburban railway system which is over-utilized beyond its maximum capacity. However, the implementation of such projects is a challenging task, considering that it would mean displacing slum dwellers living alongside the railway tracks (almost 20,000 households in 1999). However, there has been some success in this sphere when in 1997-98 SPARC, along with the National Slum Dwellers Foundation (NSDF), mediated the resettlement of 60,000 slum dwellers with out any coercion to make way for the improvement of the rail network (Patel, d’Cruz, and Burra 2002).

2.3.3 Mill Redevelopment

With the growth of the textile industry in Bombay since the mid-nineteenth century there developed a unique textile mill district called Girangaon, “village of mills,” in the central parts of the city (Chandavarkar 1994). This area includes the mills as well the chawls or rented low-income tenements owned by the mill-owners. However, immediately after the textile strike in 1982-83 most mills were shut-down, retrenching more than 100,000 workers. Today there are 58 functional mills--33 owned privately, one owned by the state government, and 25 managed by the central government. Due to rise in the real estate prices from late 1980s to early 1990s, the “vacant” Mill lands came to be viewed as the most valued land for redevelopment. The combined value of the 600 acres of the Mill lands in the 1990s was estimated to be around Rs 50 billion (Paul, Shetty, and Krishnan 2005: 399). The Development Control (DC) Rules of 1991 that deal with Mill lands were amended to enable the sale or modernization of Mill lands. As per the new rules some of the excess Mill lands could be redeveloped and a part of the profits accrued from the redevelopment was to be invested in the revival of the mill and a part was to be used to generate employment for the workers. Those parts of the Mills that were unviable for development were to be distributed in three parts: one third for low-income housing, one-third civic amenities, and one third for development by the mill-owner. In practice, however, the mill owners have managed to exploit certain loopholes in the law to redevelop or sell the Mill land (Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana Report 1996). Some of the mills have been converted to up-scale malls such as the Phoenix Mall in Lower Parel. This transformation from Mills to Malls in very poignantly described in one of the studies on the above mentioned Phonenix Mill (Krishnan 2000:9):

When today one enters the Phoenix Mills, it has a ghost-like character — walking through the gates in the evening, the massive buildings that form the compound with their graceful Gothic architecture, their interiors wear a deserted appearance. Piles of wood, bricks, cement and mortar sit in dusty piles within the various departments of the old mill, stripped of their former purpose, their previous occupants banished, and their machinery removed to sale or scrap. At the back of the compound, only the winding department continues to hum with productive activity, while a stone’s throw away the Fire and Ice Disco thumps with dance music. The chimney of the mill towers above disco, awaiting the day when, in a gesture of cynical irony, the owners of the Bowling Company propose to repaint it to look like a bowling pin. Amidst the rubble and dust of the deserted premises of the spinning and weaving sections of the mill, where only a year ago cloth was being processed and sent to market, Marutis and Mercedes are parked, and the buzz of mobile phones is heard. Industrial activity has given way to leisure and entertainment, though this change appears like a forcible occupation by an invading army, who care little for the legal and democratic rights of the people they have displaced. Indeed if they even know of them, which they probably don’t.

Along with the DC Rules Mill, land sale was also subject to guidelines of Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act (ULCRA) which set limits on the development of surplus Mill land. However, a recent article points out that Maharashtra (one of the few states where this Act existed) scrapped this legislation recently due to the pressure of developers who argued that it would free up 25,000 hectares of land which could attract foreign investors. The same article, citing another source, informs that Mumbai has emerged as the “world’s second-most expensive market for office space after London’s West End and the third-fastest growing such market…rentals in places like Nariman Point, a business district in south Mumbai, have jumped 55 percent from a year earlier to $189.51 per square foot a year.” The scrapping of ULCRA will have a large impact on the real estate market in Mumbai and will lead to more speculation, increase in land prices, and conflict of interest between those for an alternative redistribution of the land and the builders, developers, and investors.

3. Globalizing Marginality and the politics of space and citizenship

Thus, we find that in the contemporary moment, cities such as Mumbai are experiencing a contradictory process of growth which can be described by the term globalizing marginality. On the one hand, the globalizing impulse of the new world economy has subjected the city to new strategies of urban development and regulations; while on the other hand, this very process of globalizing caters exclusively to certain key economic sectors and elites, marginalizing most of the population. Although, scholars on cities and globalization have highlighted the critical role of cities in the world economy (Friedmann and Wolff 1982; Friedmann 1995a [1986]; Sassen 1991, 2001), critics have argued that such approaches “overstate the power of actors and institutions operating on a global level and underestimates local agency and contingency” (Shatkin 2007:1).

In the context of Mumbai, researchers have noted that local, regional, and national processes have interacted with global processes to restructure the economy of Mumbai (Patel 2004). The state remains the crucial arbiter in reorganizing the internal economy as well as facilitating external global economic process. At the national level, structural adjustment and liberalization of the economy in 1990s has led to the withdrawal of the state in welfare provisioning and transformation of production by making it more finance and services oriented. At the local level, the state is attempting to convert Mumbai into a “world class” city by de- and re-regulating urban space. On the one hand, in order to make more land available for financial and commercial activities, the state government is doing away with restrictive policies related to land (such as ULCRA), clearing slums, and creating “islands of excellence;” on the other hand, the state is also re-regulating urban space as seen in the creation of hawking and non-hawking zones in the city (Anjaria 2006). These are as Brenner (1999) argues forms of “reterritorialization.”

However, these new strategies of urban development are also engendering new forms of politics. Castells (1983) argues that “urban contradictions” leads to new forms of urban conflicts which in turn exert considerable constraints on the state in reorganizing urban space. Thus, spatial reorganization remains contested in nature. For example, in Mumbai we see this in movements toward preserving mill-lands in Girangaon or in efforts of slum dwellers’ organizations to arbitrate the issues of slum rehabilitation.

However, urban conflicts related to spatial reorganization are not confined to the state alone. The marginalizing nature of urbanism in Mumbai has led to contestation over public space among the urban poor and the middle classes. In his study of gated residential enclaves in Mumbai, Falzon (2004:159) uses the term “politics of exclusion” to describe the growing phenomenon of gated communities in the city and the efforts to “sanitize public spaces in order to render them acceptable to a certain middleclass set of standards.” He argues that urban lifestyles of the middle classes, influenced by a global consumerist culture, shape people’s perceptions of space and it organization. According to him (ibid.: 159-60):

[T]he middle and upper classes tend to perceive the homeless, slum dwellers, beggars, “urchins,” and hawkers as undesirables who “encroach” on the city’s public spaces and make it difficult for the former to lead what they see as a decent, healthy, and safe life. For the elites, life in the city is a constant siege….. [it is] against this siege that one must fortify.

Similarly, Fernandes (2000, 2004) argues that there is a growing visibility of the “new middle classes” based on their identity as “consumer citizens. This has led to a “politics of forgetting” where certain marginalized social groups are rendered invisible and forgotten and processes of exclusion are naturalized by the elites through a middle-class definition of citizenship (Fernandes 2004).

Various urban scholars have argued that as a result of “rescaling of the state” in contemporary globalization, cities remain the strategic arena for emerging forms of citizenship (Friedmann 2002; Holston and Appadurai 1999; Sassen 1999). It is claimed that the national state is no longer the sole arbiter of citizenship and that the nature of citizenship has changed from formal national state membership to substantive aspects related to civil, political, socio-economic, and cultural rights (Holston and Appadurai 1999). One such substantive shift in citizenship involves a shift from a language of rights to claims on the state and city space. Holston terms this as “insurgent citizenship” which, as a counteragent to the statist form of citizenship, is found in “organized grassroots mobilizations and in everyday practices that, in different ways, empower, parody, derail or subvert state agendas” (cited in Friedmann 2002:76).

In his study of the Alliance, a movement concerned with gaining security of land, housing, and infrastructure in Mumbai, Appadurai (2002) analyzes such emerging forms of citizenship in Mumbai. He refers to this as “deep democracy” or “globalization form below.” Appadurai (ibid.) describes how the Alliance, along with the pavement dwellers, engage with urban governmentality and its new forms of illegality (without resorting to violence or support of political parties) through the use of “legitimate precedents” such as self-enumerated surveys and exhibitions of houses and public toilets. Thus, through such activities the pavement dwellers (deemed as illegal occupants by the state) try to gain legitimacy and attract state’s attention toward their poverty.

In opposition to the arguments made by the elites about unregulated public spaces (or “free-for-all”) warranting stringent state intervention, Anjaria (2006) highlights that in their daily lives the hawkers in Mumbai have in place informal mechanisms that serve to self-regulate, as well as preserve urban space. He describes how, by what is termed as “official legality,” the unlicensed hawkers have to deal with a host of state agencies in their daily activities. One such example is the “pauti (receipt) system,” under which the hawkers have to pay state officials “unauthorized occupation cum refusal charges.” Thus, this was, according to Anjaria, a “clever maneuver of the state to collect revenue from an officially illegal population” (ibid.:2140-41).


The process of spatial reorganization in Mumbai needs to be understood in its unique historical, social, cultural, and institutional context. Contrary to the accounts that have announced the “end of the state,” the state remains an active agent in globalizing Mumbai. However, along with the state there are other non-state actors that play a crucial role. Even though the agency of the marginalized groups has been considerably weakened as a result of contemporary globalization, they are not passive victims. The process of spatial reorganization of the city has engendered ingenious grassroots politics from sections of the urban poor.

The process of transforming Mumbai into Shanghai or a “world class” city seems to be out of sync with the current reality in Mumbai. Mumbai is far from being Shanghai with its state-of-the-art Pu Dong airport or magnetic levitation trains. However, it is not just a matter of whether it is possible to become Shanghai, but also whether it is desirable. A management professor at MIT who researches the private sector development in China and India had this to say in a recent interview:

I will put it this way. Mumbai should be more like the Shanghai of the 1930s. Shanghai of the 1930s was the centre of all economic activities in Asia; the financial centre of Asia, like Hong Kong is today. I would argue that the institutions in India -- the Bombay Stock Exchange, and the ICICI Bank -- have the viable chance of becoming the leading financial service providers in Asia. And, then Mumbai will be more like the Shanghai of the 1930s. Mumbai shouldn't be the Shanghai of 2006. Just having skyscrapers is not going to matter!

However, whether or not Mumbai is transformed into Shanghai is not just a matter of adequate physical infrastructure or related economics; but it is essentially about the entrenched nature of urban politics in Mumbai. Any political party’s attempt to violently marginalize the urban poor has to take into account its electoral prospects. This was clearly evident in the last national elections when the incumbent right-wing BJP-led government failed to impress the rural populace with its “shining India” rhetoric.

Rather than celebrating the illusory double-digit growth rates, India needs to rethink alternate inclusive strategies of growth. In terms of Mumbai, the more urgent task at hand is to provide basic amenities of sanitation, housing, and transportation for all its citizens and to improve the conditions in the small-scale informal sector where most of its citizens toil.


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1. This is an excerpt from the key note address delivered by the Prime Minister on May 18,2006 at the 16th Asian Corporate Conference in Mumbai, titled “Driving global business: India’s new priorities, Asia’s new realities.” This conference was organized by the Asia Society along with The Wall Street Journal and The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) (
2. Also see Rao (2006) for a discussion on the emergence of Bombay as a subject of research in recent times and city, rather than nation, as the subject of representation and understanding of modernity.
3. Bombay was officially renamed Mumbai in 1995 by the Hindu fundamentalist Shiv Sena-led government. In the paper, I will refer to the region as Bombay or Mumbai depending on the historical period.
4. Much of the theoretical framework in this section is drawn from Neil Brenner (1999).
5. This is what David Harvey (1989) refers to as “space-time compression.”
6. For a more elaborate discussion of this see Neil Smith (1997).
7. Amrita Nair-Ghaswala. 2007. India posed to be the fifth largest consumer market by 2025: Report. Times of India, June 30, p22.
8. Times of India. 2007. Indian banking to be the 3rd largest by 2040, June 30, p23.
9. PricewaterhouseCoopers. 2007. Economic Outlook, March. UK.
10. Times of India. 2007. Mumbai enters top 10 financial hub list, June 19, p17.
11. Times of India. 2007 On the job front, India tops BRIC chart, June 20, p1
12. Times of India. 2007. 1L Indians account for 1/10th of GDP, June 29.
13. Elisabeth Eaves. 2007. Are slums the future of the city? June 13, Times of India, p21.
14. Kolkata and Chennai are the new official names for Calcutta and Madras
15. Although Bombay has widely been understood as a “colonial port city,” some scholars are not comfortable using this category. Chandavarkar contends that “even though Bombay was in part a product of its imperial connection and owes it origin and early growth to the colonial settlement, its commercial and industrial development was shaped increasingly and in important ways by its place within the internal economy” (1994: 29, own italics). In this internal economy the commodity markets were linked to wider relations of production and exchange in the hinterland. The textile mills of Bombay depended increasingly on the penetration of the domestic market. Thus, the growth of Bombay does not owe solely to the colonial logic of development, but on the dialectics of global forces and regional/local processes, an argument made by several scholars with regard to other Indian cities (King 2004).
16. The earliest archaeological evidence suggests that the region around Bombay had precolonial trade connections with Persia and Rome. It is also speculated that Ptolemaeus’s Heptanesia (Seven Islands) may have been identified as the seven islands of Bombay. However, this period preceding the European expansion was considered to be of minor importance in its growth (Koiiman 1985).
17. Even at the time of the transfer, Bombay was of minor importance and was considered “notoriously unhealthy” and thinly populated. It seems, Charles II was more “embarrassed than pleased by this part of the dowry” and therefore handed it to the East India Company at an annual rent of ₤ 10 in gold (Kooiman 1985).
18. Bakshi (1986), cited in Patel (2004: 335).
19. In this context Patel (2003:11) argues that even though much of formal sector production shifted to informal and small-scale sector, older capital-intensive high-value production through subsidiaries of multinational companies continued due to a demand from domestic consumption in Mumbai. This was largely achieved due to large resources of skilled labor in the city.
20. Harris (1995: 54), cited in Patel (2003: 17).
21. Structural adjustment primarily implies changing importance and role of different elements and sectors of the economy in the process of development. It takes place either on the basis of the interplay of market forces of demand and supply, internally and internationally, or is brought about on the basis of conscious and deliberate policy measures adopted mainly on the macro economic front (Papola 1994). In the contemporary world economy, structural adjustment has acquired a narrower meaning. In the developing world, particularly since 1980s, structural adjustment is said to be engineered by international financial institutions as a solution to the economic crisis faced by the developing countries.
22. The initial impact of deregulation in the real estate market in Mumbai led to the real-estate boom in the early 1990s. However, the bubble burst in between 1996 to 1998, but we again find some consolidation of the market since 1999 (Deshpande and Deshpande 2005).
23. The MMRDA was founded in 1973 and since then every 10-15 years it has formulated a draft plan for regional development. It first draft was published in 1973 and the second in 1995.
24. See Swapna Banerjee-Guha (2002)
The report was commissioned by Bombay First, a civic organization that consists of representatives from local business groups and international firms that have their offices in India.
25. On this account, it is interesting to note that the “Bombay First” was published in September 2003, while the GOM Report in February 2004. Thus, even though the latter claims that a lot of time was spent deliberating on the far reaching recommendations of the former report, the GOM Report was signed in just over four months!
26. Chakachak literally translated means clean, swanky, or polished.
27. See GOM Report (2004: 4) which contrasts between the Indian and world class standards.
28. Figures cited in Appadurai (2000: 646).
29. See Times of India. 2007. Dharavi redevelopment: Five foreign players throw hat in the ring. June 28.
30. During peak hours an average nine-car carries around 4,500 passengers, way more than the maximum capacity of 1,500 (Patel, d’Cruz, and Burra 2002: 160).
31. Krittiyas Mukherjee and Devidutta Tripathy. 2007. Maharashtra scraps land law, property prices rise. November 27. Reuters, India.
32. The Alliance consists of SPARC, an NGO; National Slum Dwellers’ Federation, a community-based organization; and Mahila Milan, an organization of poor women. Also see McFarlane (2004).
33. Huang, Yasheng. 2006. Mumbai should be like the Shanghai of 1930s. July 18, Rediff India (


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sharif said...

Hi Ravi,
This is a great summary of the current situation of Mumbai, found it helpful. I liked how you used the idea of marginality with urbanity, rather than globality. However, I would argue that this "urban turn" in social theory is glossing over other forms and aspects of marginality, in particular the peasantry and regional displacement. Some of these urban poor are regionally displaced and there are multiple cases of marginality in action.

Partha Chatterjee, in a recent article talks about similar concerns:

"I believe it has become important for us scholars of Asia to revisit the question of the peasantry in postcolonial societies. This is not because I think that the advance of capitalist industrial growth is inevitably breaking down peasant communities and turning peasants into proletarian workers, as has been predicted innumerable times in the last century and a half. On the contrary, I will argue that the forms of capitalist industrial growth in the twenty-first century may, in large agrarian countries, such as China, India and the countries of South-east Asia, make room for the preservation of peasant production and peasant cultures, but under completely altered conditions. The analysis of these emergent forms of post-colonial capitalism requires new conceptual work" (Chatterjee, Partha, _Peasant cultures of the twenty-first century_, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 9, Number 1, 2008) He mentions the last year's Nandigram incident and proposes a framework that you might find helpful.


sharif said...

Hi Ravi,
This is a great summary of the current situation of Mumbai, found it helpful. I liked how you used the idea of marginality with urbanity, rather than globality. However, I would argue that this "urban turn" in social theory is glossing over other forms and aspects of marginality, in particular the peasantry and regional displacement. Some of these urban poor are regionally displaced and there are multiple cases of marginality in action.

Partha Chatterjee, in a recent article talks about similar concerns:

"I believe it has become important for us scholars of Asia to revisit the question of the peasantry in postcolonial societies. This is not because I think that the advance of capitalist industrial growth is inevitably breaking down peasant communities and turning peasants into proletarian workers, as has been predicted innumerable times in the last century and a half. On the contrary, I will argue that the forms of capitalist industrial growth in the twenty-first century may, in large agrarian countries, such as China, India and the countries of South-east Asia, make room for the preservation of peasant production and peasant cultures, but under completely altered conditions. The analysis of these emergent forms of post-colonial capitalism requires new conceptual work" (Chatterjee, Partha, _Peasant cultures of the twenty-first century_, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 9, Number 1, 2008) He mentions the last year's Nandigram incident and proposes a framework that you might find helpful.