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Background to Mumbai

Mumbai is a megacity and a World city, it has grown enormously since the 1950’s and gives a great case study of urbanisation and its issues within a poorer country. This case study will explore how urbanisation, suburbanisation, counter urbanisation and now reurbanisation processes have occurred in the Mumbai region and how those processes have been managed.

Mumbai is located on a peninsular on the Western coast of Maharashtra state in western India, bordering the Arabian Sea. Bombay is a thriving megacity that has had an economic boom in recent years. It is home to Bollywood and the film "Slumdog Millionaire" was based there. Indeed, property in Mumbai is becoming some of the most expensive in the world. One 28 story structure for one family cost $1 billion.1

Mumbai in India

However, many of the residents of Mumbai live in illegal squatter settlements (known as bustees in India). Despite the poor conditions in the slum Prince Charles thinks that the people of Dharavi "may be poorer in material wealth but are richer socially". Indeed, in terms of population size Mumbai is India's largest city, and is the financial capital of the country, being home to the Mumbai Stock Exchange.

Up until the 1980s, Mumbai owed its wealth to its historical colonial past, textile mills and the seaport, but the local economy has since been diversified and now Mumbai is home to most of India's specialised technical industries, having a modern industrial infrastructure and vast, skilled human resources. Industries include aerospace, optical engineering, medical research, computers and electronic equipment of all varieties, shipbuilding and salvaging, and renewable energy.1

Mumbai serves as an important economic hub of India, it accounts for 25% industrial output, 5% of India's GDP and also 70% of the capital transactions in the Indian economy.2 Many of India's numerous Trans National Corporations (including the State Bank of India, Tata Group, Godrej and Reliance) are based in Mumbai. Other formalized workers include many state and government workers. Alongside this incredible wealth is a large unskilled and informal workforce, who work as self-employed and often unregulated workers. Many of these people earn their living as street hawkers, street sellers, taxi drivers, mechanics and other such occupations. Bollywood and other Media Industries also employ huge numbers of people. Most of India's major television and satellite networks, as well as its major publishing houses, have headquarters here. The centre of the Hindi movie industry, Bollywood, produces the largest number of films per year in the world.

Urbanisation and its impacts

Mumbai has urbanised over the past 60 years and urbanized rapidly from its origins as a fishing village. The site of the fishing village soon became a port region as the site favoured development. Protected from the Arabian Sea by a peninsular art the southern end of Salsette Island, it had access to sea on two sides and the British colonial administration in India developed the sheltered inlet into a major port. The British viewed the port and surroundings as the ”Gateway to India”.3 This made it the closest port of entry to subcontinent for travellers from Europe, through the Suez Canal.

As with many major global ports area around the port became industrialised – processing goods for export and handling imports. The city grew during British rule as variety of services grew up around the port and continued to grow after British left in 1947. Since 1971, the graph shows the inexorable rise in the population of Mumbai, from 8 million in 1971 to 21 million now.

Mumbai population

The other significant factor to note is that slum dwellers make up an ever-increasing proportion of the population, creating numerous problems for people and planners. It should be noted that the original urbanisation phase of Mumbai focussed upon the southern tip of Salsette Island, and outside of this the city suburbanised in a Northern direction.

Mumbai Salsette

The causes of urbanisation are multiple but involve a high level of natural increase within Mumbai itself and in-migration principally from the surrounding district of Maharashtra but also from neighbouring states. Mumbai booming economy means that migrants come for job opportunities in the expanding industries, financial institutions and administration.

Mumbai has grown in a Northern direction limited by physical Geography as shown in the image below.

Mumbai Physical Geography

It is limited in where it can grow with creek systems to the North and East, the Arabian Sea to the West and its harbour to the south East. Mangrove swamps further complicate the picture, and these marginal lands often form the location for the poorest people who live illegally in slums. One such slum is Dharavi, in the heart of Mumbai.

Slumming it

The following notes are based upon Kevin McCloud's "Slumming it."4 and show the consequences of rapid urbanisation in poorer countries, where the pace of urbanisation make it difficult to maintain services essential for an acceptable standard of living.

Dharavi slum is located in Mumbai (formally Bombay) in India. India’s and Mumbai's biggest slum is known as Dharavi. There are a million people crammed into one square mile in Dharavi. At the edge of Dharavi the newest arrivals come to make their homes on waste land next to water pipes in slum areas. They set up home illegally amongst waste on land that is not suitable for habitation. In the wet monsoon season these people have huge problems living on this low-lying marginal land. Many of the people here come from many parts of India as a result of the push and pull factors of migration. Conditions in the slum In the slum people have to live with many problems. People have to go to the toilet in the street and there are open sewers. Children play amongst sewage waste and doctors deal with 4,000 cases a day of diphtheria and typhoid. Next to the open sewers are water pipes, which can crack and take in sewage. Dharavi slum is based around this water pipe built on an old rubbish tip. The people have not planned this settlement and have no legal rights to the land. There are also toxic wastes in the slum including hugely dangerous heavy metals.

Dharavi is made up of 12 different neighbourhoods and there are no maps or road signs. The further you walk into Dharavi from the edge the more permanent and solid the structures become. People live in very small dwellings (e.g. 12X12ft), often with many members of their extended families. Many architects and planners claim this slum could hold the solution to many of the problems of the world’s largest cities. Water is a big problem for Mumbai's population; standpipes come on at 5:30am for 2 hours as water is rationed. These standpipes are shared between many people. Rubbish is everywhere and most areas lack sanitation and excrement and rats are found on the street. 500 people share one public latrine. The famous cloth washing area also has problems, despite its social nature sewage water filters into the water used for washing clothes.

The Positives of Dharavi Slum

There are positives; informal shopping areas exist where it is possible to buy anything you might need. There are also mosques catering for people's religious needs. There is a pottery area of Dharavi slum which has a community centre. It was established by potters from Gujarat 70 years ago and has grown into a settlement of over 10,000 people. It has a village feel despite its high population density and has a central social square. Family life dominates, and there can be as many as 5 people per room. The houses often have no windows, asbestos roofs (which are dangerous if broken) and no planning to fit fire regulations. Rooms within houses have multiple functions, including living, working and sleeping. Many daily chores are done in social spheres because people live close to one another. This helps to generate a sense of community. The buildings in this part of the slum are all of different heights and colours, adding interest and diversity. This is despite the enormous environmental problems with air and land pollution. 85% of people have a job in the slum and work LOCALLY, and some have even managed to become millionaires. Recycling and waste in Dharavi Kevin McCloud found that people seemed genuinely happy in the slum.

However, toilets are open holes above a river – hardly hygienic. This could lead to Dengue fever, cholera and hepatitis Dharavi has a recycling zone. It is claimed that Dharavi’s recycling zone could be the way forward to a sustainable future. Everything is recycled from cosmetics and plastics to computer keyboards. 23% of plastic waste gets recycled in the UK, in Mumbai it is 80%. However, it is humans who work to sift the rubbish in the tips where children and women sift through the rubbish for valuable waste. They have to work under the hot sun in appalling conditions. They earn around a £1 a day for their work. At the edge of the tip the rag dealers sort their haul before selling it on to dealers. The quandary is that people have to work in poor conditions to recycle waste. From the tip it arrives in Dharavi where it is processed. It is sorted into wire, electrical products, and plastics. Plastics in India are continuously recycled. People work in dangerous conditions with toxic substances without protective clothing; this could affect people’s life expectancy. Even dangerous hospital waste is recycled. One private enterprise makes the metal cages inside suitcases, making 700 pieces per day, paid 3 rupees per piece. There are 15,000 one room factories in Dharavi which there are 300 feeding most of Mumbai. Many of the products from Dharavi end up around the world based upon very cheap labour. Many of the people work in very poor working conditions, and includes children. Indeed, Dharavi is trying to do in 20 years what the west did in 200, develop. Managing and improving Squatter settlements.

Large scale redevelopment - urban RESURGENCE?

A $2billion development project threatens the recycling district and part of Dharavi. The land upon which Dharavi is built is next to Mumbai’s financial district. This makes it a prime target for redevelopment. The people who are relocated will be put into smaller housing in apartment blocks. An ancient fishing village is also threatened. These areas have strong safe neighbourhoods that have low crime and communal areas. Also at risk are the local shops and markets and the community spirit which has taken generations to develop. The locals would prefer small improvements to the existing slum such as improvements in drainage. The value of land is so high that redevelopment is now a real threat. The alternative accommodation is very small. The slum dwellers face 14 story apartments as accommodation as proposed by the cities Slum Rehabilitation Authority. This will separate communities and make people work away from where they live. Only people who have lived in the slum since 2000 will be relocated. Current redevelopment projects are densely populated and house lots of people. They are not good for community cohesion. Indeed, the planned redevelopment is part of the Maharashtra state governments plan for Dharavi. The architect employed to put together a $2 billion bid from major developers across the world to demolish Dharavi and build homes and amenities, Mukesh Mehta, has said ‘Dharavi is a black hole – something we should be ashamed of. My vision would be that it would be transformed into one of the better suburbs of Mumbai.’ The residents do not want this redevelopment, Arputham Jockin grew up in Mumbai's slums and now represents the slum dwellers in their fight against the government's plans. ‘Selling this land to the global market and giving it over for commercial use - how will that improve our lives? 90% of the people here want a stake in their future and a say in how it is transformed. It has to work from the bottom up - not top down.’ he says. In 2018 a new plan was announced for the wholesale redevelopment of Dharavi. 5

Local Based Improvements

There is an alternative to large scale redevelopment and that is to allow LOCAL people design the improvements to the slum. The Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres, better known as SPARC, this is an NGO that supports the efforts of local people to get better housing for their many members. Ideas generated from local people supported by this charity include adding an extra floor to buildings so that all family members can be accommodated in the same building. These flats also had 14-foot high ceilings and a single tall window so are well ventilated, bright, and less dependent on electric fans for cooling. Their loft spaces add extra room without seeming crowded and include small spaces for bathing. But toilets are placed at the end of each of the building’s four floors and kept clean by the two or three families who use each one. These ideas only work when water is running in Dharavi. Architecture students have also been hard at work. One student has created a multi-storey building with wide outer corridors connected by ramps “space ways in the sky,” to replicate the street. These space ways allow various activities to be linked, such as garment workshops, while maintaining a secluded living space on another. Communal open space on various levels allows women to preserve an afternoon tradition, getting together to do embroidering. One student also tried to help the potters of Dharavi. He designed into existing houses the living space at one end and a place to make the pots at the other. Each has an additional open terrace on which to make pots, which are fired in a community kiln. As the National Slum Dwellers Federation has repeatedly proven, housing the poor works best, costs less and is better for the environment, when the poor themselves have a say in what is being built. Dharavi could also follow the Brazilian model, as evidenced in Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro. Within the Favelas the government has assisted people in improving their homes. Breeze blocks and other materials (pipes for plumbing etc) were given as long as people updated their homes. This is an approach known as SITE and SERVICE. The Brazilian government also moved a lot of people out of shanty towns and into low cost, basic housing estates with plumbing, electricity and transport links. The waiting list for these properties was huge.

Suburbanisation in Mumbai

Mumbai now has a long history of suburbanisation, and many key events have occurred in the suburbanisation process, initially in a Northwards direction along major transport routes such as roads and rail links, and now in an Eastward direction. This suburbanisation has involved not just the growth of residential areas but also the relocation and growth of new industrial areas.

  • 1930s to 1940s - The rise of Shivaji Park area, Matunga and Mahim as the outlying suburbs
  • 1960s (post independence) - Inner suburbs in southern Salsette and Chembur-Trombay had emerged
  • 1970s - Assimilation of the `extended suburbs' beyond Vile-Parle and Ghatkopar.

As with other major cities, other towns and villages have been swallowed up by Mumbai in the process of suburbanisation. In the last decade, Thane, Vashi and Belapur have become extended suburbs despite being planned as individual towns. All of these developments are summarised in the map.

Mumbai suburbs

The northwards movement along rail and road corridors comes first. Next, the areas around these communication links are developed. Third, these areas extend outwards and can involve reclaiming land next to creeks and mangrove, and slopes in the hills of Salsette can be colonised too. The major railway stations have areas around them that have become shopping fronts. The reclaimed areas house the wealthier middle and upper classes, but poorer people will build huts in and amongst these areas and full shanties can grow on the poorest quality land.

This suburbanisation has had consequences;

  1. People are economically stratified into those that can afford better housing and those that cannot, rather than historical caste, religious or linguistic stratifications
  2. Less than a third of the population of Mumbai lives in the `island' city.
  3. The centre of density of population has shifted from the island city well into suburban Salsette.
  4. The commuter traffic has changed. Rather than being just one way into the Central Business District (CBD) in the south of the city in the mornings there is an increasing movement of people in the opposite direction. Increasing industrialisation of the suburbs is increasing this movement.


Counterurbanisation in Mumbai

The map below shows that some of the population of Mumbai is also counterurbanising, with a decline in population over a 20 year period within the original heart of the city in Mumbai district. The largest growth is in those districts directly to the East of Salsette Island, and even districts 50 or more kilometres from Mumbai are growing. One such phenomenon fuelling this growth is that of planned towns (new towns in the UK. Navi Mumbai is a planned township directly to the East of Mumbai and was designated in 1972. It is the largest new town in the world. The town was developed to reduce congestion and population densities in Mumbai, which itself was restricted by its physical geography. The new town now has a population of 1,111,000 people, is linked to Mumbai by road and rail bridges and an international airport. It also has an extensive bus network, an international airport and many IT and software firms in areas such as the International Infotech Park at Vashi and the New Millennium City near Mahape.

Counterurbanisation Mumbai

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1 – – Mumbai accessed 25th February 2020 from

2 –, Commercial Capital Mumbai, accessed 25th February 2020 from

3 – The British Library (no date) Bombay: History of a City - accessed 25th February 2020 from

4 - Kevin McCloud & Helen Simpson (2011) - Kevin McCloud : slumming it. Roadshow Entertainment, ©2011.

5 – Sujit Mahamulkar (2018) Dharavi to be redeveloped, The Times of India - accessed 25th February 2020 from oon


Posted by Rob Gamesby April 2020



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