Art of the Matter: Merging Theory, Research and Art

“Hyderabad unlike other big cities defines itself through the uniqueness of her streets. It is the streets that have an identity that they communicate to the onlooker. But to the ones who live on these streets life can be less than nostalgic. They may carry the street with them in the form of a gunny bag hanging to their shoulders.”
— Prakash Kona, Streets that Smell of Dying Roses


Art Matter 1
A Sample Transect Map of Gudimalkapur Market


The Winter Institute is a full-fledged three credit course in the academic calendar of Masters of Urban Policy and Governance at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. It is a space for interdisciplinary and collaborative learning through research, and action through field immersion. In 2018, from October 6 to 17, a group of 24 students and a few faculty members, traveled to Ameerpeth and Medhipatnam, Hyderabad. The aim of this course was to engage with the question of employment. More specifically, to understand how youth from marginalised localities in the city engage with work and the work sphere. As part of it’s tradition, students share their experiences and insights through a series of blogs , published on the department website. This is the final post in this series.

The Winter Institute was held in collaboration with the Hyderabad Urban Lab (HUL), a research organization that studies the challenges of contemporary urbanization. Together, the faculty from the Centre of Urban Policy and Governance and staff of HUL conceptualized the theme of the study, narrowed down the research sites, and further guided students through the process.

Apart from writing the blog posts where they reflected on their research methods and findings, students also shared invaluable insights taken from the field through innovative methods. One of these visual methods involved creating postcards that reflected the process of fieldwork. These alternative methods helped students to freely articulate experiences and paved the way for new forms of field research methods.The students were divided into five groups, each encouraged to use a unique field strategy to discuss field research. Anandita Sikka created a series of field images narrating interview scenes with flower sellers, municipal body leaders, and other stakeholders from Gudimalkapur market. These visuals portrayed the narratives acquired from their research and illuminated the underlying presence of authority figures and the versatility of flower sellers in adapting to changes in the market space.

Art Matter 2
Inter-sectional Postcard

The images compiled and created by students supplemented photographic evidence and helped to visualize complex ethnographic research ideas and intersectionalities. The flexibility of field research tools are often not understood from structured reports and case studies. Structured reports can condense rich in-depth data, but often miss several nuances. These visual tools provide an interactive medium for representing data. Ultimately, it brings flexibility in understanding qualitative research data.

Another unconventional method adopted by one of the student groups was to create a series of calendars showing biographical information on some of the interviews and mapped street locations. This effort to convert in-depth data into simpler-to-read and engaging formats is one of the reasons why alternative methods maybe a viable option for future research.

Art Matter 3
Multipurpose Calendar: Goutham and his group discuss how to integrate space and place in their field data

In another instance, rough transect maps were created to make easy translations of geographical locations, marking only those parts which were essential for students. The transect map (as shown in Figure 4) provide readers with a write up about Gudimalkapur Flower Market and guides them through the roads and houses encountered during fieldwork. This layout along with its descriptions makes it possible to visualize several experiences from the field. Devashree Ragde also drew a transect map to delineate the basic stakeholders present from her fieldwork.

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Student Impression (Made by Devashree Ragde)

Perhaps one of the most prominent moments during the Winter Institute came through post-fieldwork presentations. Students laid out their major fieldwork themes and correlations into comprehensive presentations, diagrams, and model set ups. A few of these samples are represented below:

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The IT Crowd (Prema and teammates)
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Typical store placements (Goutham and teammates)

It is difficult to slot these narratives and visualization under any one fixed cluster of research. They are interdisciplinary, in-depth, and represent constant field interactions and changing dynamics. Unlike quantitative research tools which are goal-oriented, the research shown here are examples of how process-oriented methods allow students to understand the nuances in the field. It is practiced through mapping the everyday realities and difficulties faced by residents and workers. These mapping exercises are not meant to be perfect or absolute. Rather, these are tools designed to guide students in their personal research goals. By learning about the history, diversity, and local functionality in markets like Ameerpet and Mehdipatnam, the students taking part in the Winter Institute were able to understand the different complexities in these localities. This is emblematic of how field-oriented research is taught and practiced at the Centre for Urban Policy and Governance. Hyderabad Urban Lab facilitated and highlighted the need for innovative field practices and tools for quality ethnographic research. These larger-than-life stories shared by students may be incomplete, but they are the bedrock of urban adaptability. The Winter Institute has broadened avenues for students to conduct and communicate their research ideas via a diverse set of methods, and reach beyond academia and its peers.


The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website:

Hyderabad: A City of Hope, Colour and Dreams

By Sana Asif Ahmad 


Our 12 days in Hyderabad helped us discover the colours of this city beyond the famous tourist attractions of pearls, biryani, IT city or the Charminar. We were here for our Winter Institute, a two-week fieldwork based module organized as a part of the Master’s in Urban Policy and Governance. The steep and rolling landscape of the city was covered in vivid colors of the Bathukamma festival, floral festival celebrated predominantly by the women of Telangana, as streets were lined with women selling the most fascinating combination of flowers. As we interacted with people on the streets I understood Zehra Banu’s secret tip for the ‘zaika’ of the biryani, the diversity of flavors that is present in just a single bite.

The significance of the City of Nizam as an aspirational capital was very striking as many people travelled to make it big in Hyderabad. These dreams came from a variety of people — from a coconut seller, tailor, a student. But the idea of a woman present in public spaces was still contested. “How can women roam on the streets, Ma’am? They will be spoiled!”  says Shamim Bibi, a mother of two. Yet, I managed to meet the likes of Lata and Ayesha at a skill-training centre in Rasoolpura, who eyed a bright future.

Mohd Bhai complained about his social life as he regretted coming back from his 8-year-long stint in the Gulf because of family responsibilities. “What are dreams? Today I dream of one thing, tomorrow another” he said in a resentful tone as he cleaned his workstation at a makeshift electrical repair shop in Ameerpet. He complains that coming back to Hyderabad brings so many social responsibilities from attending funerals to marriages unlike in Gulf where one has only job duties to meet. 

Both Rasoolpura and Ameerpet are hubs for informal livelihoods. Many we spoke to there had either dropped out of education due to some constraints or due to lack of faith in the education system. Utterances like “Even if we become graduates, we wont earn as much. Why spend money? Anyway we weren’t interested.” Were common.

Most women we spoke to mentioned how girls were married-off early. On asking a young 17-year-old Sheeba, shyly explained how she was also getting married in a month’s time while her brother, now a delivery boy for a food delivery service, averted questions by looking busy on his phone as he sat with pride on his delivery bike. The men came across as more accustomed to earning before deciding to settle down, but even here not everyone had a college degree. Even the aspirations that we witnessed in Ameerpet, a more work dominated setup saw men more inclined to make it big through experience and skills rather than education.

The underlying theme recurrent in Hyderabad’s city life was dominated by communal amity. Rasoolpura as a residential setting saw occurrences of varied belief institutions with temples, mosques and churches almost crisscrossing pathways. This played an important role is securing open and safe workspaces for all and also attracting migrants from as far as Uttar Pradesh like the “Maggam” (Zardozi embroidery) workers.

The most positive part of the city of Hyderabad was its inclusiveness for all variants of dreams. The city could make space for the information technology boom led growth and lifestyles along with smaller scale ambitions residing in the alleys of Ameerpet. They nurtured simple urges to find space on the upscale marketplace of Banjara hills or just to ensure that their kids don’t end up with similar struggles of life. Stories of a coconut seller and a migrant working at a glass fitting shop reaffirmed my understanding of this city for its open opportunities of social mobility.

Our trip to discover the aspects of work life and the city along with its hidden implications helped us understand how intertwined the two are with each other. The social life and aspirations of Hyderabad value every individual and their place on the street. It enlightened me about the levels of commercial understanding possessed by these people deriving their livelihood from the streets. Bhanu explains, “A corner is the best location, the public walks in from both ends”, as I saw him deftly roll the Puris on a small portable stool. Similar is their judgement about customer behavior as Bhanu asked me to come after 12pm when the office going crowd is gone and he could make time for my queries.

Our visit to Hyderabad was an enthralling experience for its learning outcomes and for the beautiful exposure to the spirit of work life that the city possesses. Hyderabad’s work life covers a huge spectrum of diversity from the opportunities of work ranging from street vendors, tailors, food stalls to food delivery boys and sales women. The range of the aspirations are not limited by any national boundary as the advertisement board on a high rise, right outside the entrance to Rasoolpura reads ‘Migrate to Canada’.

My little encounters with Bharthi a sales woman, Gayatri the shy girl employed at the coffee shop, Md Abdullah the key maker or Ahmad bhai running the alteration shop – all displayed the pride they derive from their work. It is their lives that helped me recalibrate my views on the work that is sustained on the streets of our cities as they strive with their skills and honor to ensure that there remains a hope for a better tomorrow.

A Poem

Across the road have you noticed that man, woman or child?

Whose effort to catch your attention makes him go wild;

“Three for two”, “Aadhe daam par saheb”, “Free Free Free”, the noises that make you go sick,

No fancy hoardings, no designer shops, they rather have encroaching spaces doing the trick;

He can be a migrant, a slum-dweller or just semi-skilled,

But in your rough city, he still manages to survive with his strong will;

No dearth of passion, aspirations and Banjara hill dreams,

You ask him just a question and hear his desires scream;

The woman there, peeping from her shop’s end,

Has strong signals of independent aspirations to send;

Ask her about her struggles to survive the men dominated stares,

Bearing the scorching sun, the pouring rains and even the Municipal scares;

Yet they come out with pride, living life each day,

As we see them, yet not notice, in our life’s way.


The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website:

The Struggle for Work: Aspirations and Ambition in the Lanes of Hyderabad’s Mehedipatnam

By Goutham Raj KJ

Mehdipatnam is a very dynamic space that resembles the characteristics of Hyderabad at an area level. The market of Mehdipatnam has a non-linear progression in its formal and informal sectors, both competing with each other in terms of growth and expansion. The Mehdipatnam market consists of an IT coaching and skill development belt, commercial complexes, recreational spaces, institutions, a flower market, a vegetable market, Rythu bazaar and street vendors all around these spaces.

It has varied economic activities and diverse population groups — Mehdipatnam resembles a mini Hyderabad. Just like Hyderabad, Mehdipatnam is also famous for its IT coaching and skill development sector attracting young and mid-career professionals from India and abroad (specially from African countries). It also functions as a major market destination for nearby regions’ agricultural produce through its multiple markets such as Gudimalkapur flower market, Rythu Bazaar, Gudimalkapur wholesale market, Gudimalkapur retail market and Street vendors in Gudimalkapur.

Goutham 5
A virtual map highlighting the boundaries of Medhipatnam

The location of Mehdipatnam markets and institutions signify that the area closer to bus stop, parallel to Old Bombay flyover is concentrated with IT coaching, educational institutions,skill development centers and other allied are majorly categorized under the formal sector. The markets that sell agricultural produce and its allied activities are concentrated on the other end of Mehdipatnam because of which the northern part is perceived as formal and tech-advanced and the southern part as informal and highly congested.

The map shows the area in blue patch is concentrated with skill development and IT coaching centers while the greenish patch signifies the concentration of markets with agriculture and allied activities produce.

Goutham 6


Gateway and Destination

Mehdipatnam is a dynamic space attracting youth from all parts of the country with its diverse sectors to provide desired services to the youth. Many students at IT coaching institutes are mid-career professionals from Telugu states and beyond.

Goutham 7
Instructions for typing, as observed in a few IT cafes and hubs

Some of them are from different African countries coming all over the way to Hyderabad to learn market desired upgraded and new coding languages and programming at cheaper costs and certified quality programs. Most of them are also recent graduates and young professionals. Most of them are not interested in working in India after their coaching. A large chunk wants to work abroad for better a pay scale and high standard of living. Therefore IT coaching and skill development belt with its other allied activities like travel and tour industry, and legal consultancies are creating this part as a gateway to move abroad.

Goutham 14
A transect map with various market typologies

The Gudimalkapur area with its agricultural and allied markets is attracting and absorbing large number of laborers from the city and hinterlands of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, north eastern part of Karnataka and Marathwada. These are mostly young men coming from villages and small towns because of agricultural decay, unequal resource distribution at area level (lacking farm land or other properties) and widespread poverty. These men work in petty jobs that are largely non-entrepreneurial in nature. For these men Gudimalkapur is a destination that provides them employment with better payment and livable conditions.


Goutham 8


Youth’s role and degree of presence in the market

The dynamics of ownership and employment of youth in Mehdipatnam is as varied as its spatial dynamism. Most of the youth in the IT coaching and skill development belt are present in the form of students and very few are working as trainers and faculty. The age demography of the students seeking training and coaching in this belt is very varied ranging from 14 to 45 years. School students of VII-VIII standards are also utilizing the services provided in these institutes. There is no visible ownership of the youth in this part of the Mehdipatnam. Also, while enquiring about the ownership of these spaces and centers most of the people vocally asserted on the absence of youth ownership.

On the other end of the Mehdipatnam, the Gudimalkapur absorbs large chunk of youth as helpers, cleaners, sellers, street vendors, carriers and garland makers.

These are mostly migrant laborers from far off distances. They start their jobs with low payment and it steadily increases with the seniority. Also, there is a hierarchy in these markets in the form of promotions beginning from helpers and carriers to sellers/street vendors to garland makers. To understand the employment pattern in the markets, following flow chart of flower market illustration will help.


Goutham 13
A concept tree with different forms of youth employment

Street vending is the only profession in which the presence of youth ownership is relatively high in comparison to other spaces. Youth lack resources and capital to own a proper business in the formal sector. They are largely working in the informal sector as supporting staff. Some of these supporting staff has finished their graduation in professional courses. Most of the street vendors are around the gates of flower and vegetable markets from which they collect their supply. The youth are not able to own a space inside the market area due to low social capital, poor contacts, social identity and lack of capital to invest. Therefore, the youth in Mehdipatnam is stuck to petty supporting jobs and lacks ownership in the markets.


Youth in Mehdipatnam are drawn from faraway places to seek work. Like discussed in the above sections Mehdipatnam has two different zones largely perceived as formal and informal. The study found that youth with equal level of educational qualifications are engaged in both the spaces as workers and students. We found that who does what; to study or work; and where; is largely influenced by the social capital of the individual. We found the influence of caste, religion, gender, region and age in the narratives of the workers in both the spaces despite their educational qualifications and working capabilities. The ownership of the youth is ubiquitously absent in both the spaces revealing the fact that our markets are not yet student and youth friendly to be entrepreneurial.


The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website:

Ameerpet: A Neighbourhood on the Move

By Akash Baral 

Video Title: The United Streets of Ameerpet

It was exciting to travel from the busy suburban streets of Mumbai to Ameerpet, an IT Hub where students and professionals come to update and improve their skills set to further climb up the innumerable steps of corporate ladder. The hustle bustle in Ameerpet made me realize that this street never sleeps, there is always some kind of activity going on no matter what time of the day. The day starts at 6 am early morning with GHMC Sweepers sweeping the road in a very organised manner. Soon after as the sun comes up, hunger brings people to the vending stalls for an early breakfast. The vendors could be found popularly serving punugulu, bonda, medu vada, and idli with allam and coconut chutney. Some of these vendors sell all their food and close down by noon. The vehicles start crowding the road and the traffic starts to show up by 11am . Eleven in the morning to 1pm and early evening are the busiest times.

I decided to capture the busy streets of Ameerpet because the crowds, the chaos and the constant movement fascinated me. Sitting with a tripod in a moving crowd is something I was very inexperienced with but somehow I got through it. While shooting the timelapse people always seemed to be fascinated with what I was filming and for what purpose which I gladly explained. I kept them interested after I explained the reason. Interestingly enough a majority of people who came up to me asked about the project and had a wide variety of suggestions, but nobody happened to object somehow which was unexpected to me.



The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website:

Negotiating Boundaries: The Work Dynamics of Gudimalkapur Market

By Isha Fuletra

Isha 1
A view of Gudimalkpur Flower Market

“In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends. We eat, drink, sing, dance, and flirt with them. We wed and christen with flowers. We dare not die without them.
We have even attempted to speak in the language of flowers. ”
– Kakuzō Okakura
(The Book of Tea)

I couldn’t have agreed any more to these words. But sad as it is, that despite our long companionship with flowers we have known just a little about them! Not until very long, I, like many others, was aware that in the city of pearls, Hyderabad, the shiny bouquets of red and white roses sold at the little shack around the corner of street or the festoons of lilies decorated at the weddings have, perhaps, travelled miles much more than a diplomat. Even more so, that those which haven’t crossed the international borders are still not grown locally in the city or the state. But now, since that is known, every time I’ll see a bride tossing a bouquet, or my mother offering flowers at a temple, I would be probably wonder about where those flowers came from.

If in Hyderabad, the flowers are surely to be sourced from the Gudimalkpur flower market –

Telangana state’s largest wholesale market for flowers.  Going further into the market supply chain one shall know that most of the flowers in this market have their origins in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and sometimes West Bengal. Also, while the commission agents are mainly locals, only a handful of the farmers, traders and labourers working share origin similar to the former. To add to the puzzle, there are hierarchies of work that are required to keep the market performing – agricultural market committee, commission agents, farmers, labourers, traders, cleaners, waste-pickers, canteen service providers, shops for allied products like garlands and plastic bags, transport service providers, retail buyers and so on.  That being so, there emerges a complex web of interdependencies and a remarkable play of dynamics of social identities, spatial distributions and temporalities of the market.

The market, which came into existence during the last Nizam in 1935 as a part of Moazzam Jahi Fruit Market in Jambagh area of the Hyderabad city, attained its present day structure when in 2009 it was shifted to in Gudimalkpur. Analogically, a growing organism, which was then sustaining a large number of other organisms and relations, was uprooted from one ecosystem and placed back into another owing to the crisis of space and logistics. A process as critical as this, was thus kept as formal and lawful as it could have been.

With a priority given to those conducting the business of flowers in the Mozzam Jahi market, 65 shops were auctioned to the commission agents for a period of three years, followed by a renewal. Licenses were also issued to 50 Hamalies who would unload the crates of flowers off the trucks every day. Similarly, contracts were laid down with cleaning and canteen service providers. Those, whose shops had to be demolished, due to widening of roads for trucks and vans to enter the market, were allotted space inside the market as compensation. Analogous to a trade union, a welfare committee comprising of representatives of commission agents was also sanctioned. At none of these stages, preferences were given to people with a particular social identity i.e. gender, caste and religion. In all, there is present a set processes in an organised form. Indeed the market was on its way to get ‘formalised’!

But, as we have known, agriculture is a tricky business! Several policies have attempted to structure and formalise the agricultural chains- from the APMC Act of 2003 till the model APMC draft of 2018. But still sector continues to remain a convoluted plot, decorated intricately with the ‘formalities’ and the ‘informalities’, and the legal(s) and illegal(s). Gudimalkpur flower market was no different!

Isha 2
The office place of Agricultural Market Committee

Along with a formalised establishment by Department of Agricultural Marketing, the market also holds in place an agricultural market committee (AMC), whose role is to manage and regulate the trade there. AMC makes arrangements for the basic amenities, like water, electricity etc., with the money collected as tax (read as market fees) from the commission agents.Also, the records of flowers that enter the market every day along with its number and origin, their prices across the day, the amount of flowers that go to the dump, daily sale of each shop etc. are also maintained by the committee. On the other hand, no records are maintained of the people who work in there, apart from the commission agents.

Canteen contracts signed by AMC with private service providers are formal in nature. But when the contractor, in turn, sublets various others to sells fruits in carts or dosa in a small shack, the contracts attains an informal look. For all these people underneath the top layer of contractors and agents – farmers, traders, garland makers, labourers, fruit seller and tea seller- employment is far from being permanent or event secure, as it depends heavily on the environment and market conditions. Moreover, the job security for all those who works under the commission agents becomes a subject of trust. In absence of a minimum level, their wages are highly sensitive to the market economy. Some receive a daily wage, while others get a monthly income- none of which are legitimised by a law. In yet another scenario, the narratives by women surrounding the prevalent harassment in the marketplace and the comments of those belonging to a particular caste about dignity of work and barriers to entry, provided evidence to the failure of the legal sanction to safeguards one’s right to work in the market irrespective of gender, caste & religion.

There’s much more to fuel the trickling down of this seemingly formal setup into an informal market. The parallel chain of flowers that has its starting point in the heaps of waste, is one such example. With no checks and records of price and amount of flowers sold, such an activity was perhaps, the most notable of all the ‘informalities’. But not so! The words of the lady gathering flowers from the heap of dumped ones, “Idi na vanthu” (It’s my turn), as she quarreled with the little boy who also wanted to pick flowers from the same place was evident of the fact that these women and kids generally coordinate among themselves to deicide their turn to pick flowers- how much time each person will spend picking, and at what time of the day.

Isha 3
Woman gathering flowers from the heap of waste

In another such instance, the job security of workers’, which earlier seemed precarious, also attains a much more formalised nature when understood in consideration of the organised way of establishing trust between the two parties. In order to successfully climb the ladder, the flower market worker, like any other employee in a corporate structure, is expected to showcase values of honesty, perseverance and sincerity. In the case of the auto rickshaw pullers and retail buyers, verbal contracts are noted to follow the successful establishment of such a trust-based relationship. Clearly, the formality was woven deep into that which was perceived as informal. Making this claim of mine even stronger, are mechanisms of price regulation devised by the traders and agents. The role of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ here is played by the mobile service providers, particularly the women sweeping the streets and the tea sellers who moves door-to-door. These along with their assigned roles also functions are carriers of information related to quality of flowers remaining at a particular shop, the price that a particular wholesaler is quoting and so on. With such a reliable mechanism, the market appears to be a self-regulating body in itself.

Having been exposed to such details of market, now I am beginning to rethink the boundaries around formalities and informalities of work. When boxed separately, ‘formal’ is perceived largely as organised, lawful and secure, while ‘informal’ is illegal, erratic and, unorganised. Notably,as in the case of Gudimalkpur flower market, the one-size-fits all definition of ‘formalities’ and ‘informalities’ does not hold true. For such misfits, the only way that remains is negotiating the boundaries of the world of the black and the white.


The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website:

A River Lost: The Concretising Landscape of Mumbai’s Mithi

By Anusri Tiwari

A river in an urban setting is a production of the activities that take place along its edge, right from its source to its end. This interaction of the river with its edge and the people shapes its form and character. Here we have the story of Mithi, an urban River which flows through the “world class” city of Mumbai. 

A quick detour from Mithi’s story, to help you visualise the situation:

If you were told that Mithi is an Urban River which image would you relate to?

For those who thought it was the right one you guys have been paying attention to your cityscape and the others, well fortunately you are absolutely correct too. Both the pictures represent the Mithi, one close to the source point and other is from the downstream. distance of about 17.84 km it originates from the tail discharge of the Vihar and the Powai Lake. It is 246 m above sea level, an arterial river that spans along north-south axis of Mumbai’s mainland and flows through different sections of the city. There are 70 nallahs or outfalls which discharge their outflow into the Mithi.

The diagram gives an overview of the urban interface around the river between its source and termination. The photos show the various layers of urban form that exist which ranges from various land use, structures and activities associated with it.

Anusri 5

The upper stretch from Vihar Lake to Andheri-Kurla Road has a very steep gradient whereas downstream part has flat gradient thus there is a sudden discharge of water in the downstream of the river. The last stretch of the river which is about 8.23 km from the Mahim Bay is influenced by tidal effect making this section of the river vulnerable to flooding.

Mithi, an urban river is presently glorified as a nallah for the city. A nallah is a natural drainage, or in the modern terms, a sewer line for the densely packed city of Mumbai.  When one comes in its proximity the strong stench is suffocating and the view is gruesome. So how did Mithi come to be what it is today? First to give a brief hydrological overview of Mithi – spanning a total distance of about 17.84 km it originates from the tail discharge of the Vihar and the Powai Lake. It is 246 m above sea level, an arterial river that spans along north-south axis of Mumbai’s mainland and flows through different sections of the city. There are 70 nallahs or outfalls which discharge their outflow into the Mithi.

Anusri 6

The diagram above taken from the CWPRS Report (2006) shows the gradual drop in the bed gradient of the river. This is the downstream of the River where Mithi needs more area to expand and flow freely. Important point to note is also that major reclamation activity and new developments that are taking place in the last section of river. 

Why should we be concerned about the Mithi?

The Great Deluge of 2005 was a turning point for Mumbai, the 48 hours of floods deeply scarred the city — socially, economically and physically. At the time Mithi regained its importance in the city’s landscape. Mithi which at that time was seen as a natural storm water drain for the city wasn’t able to redirect the rainwater to the Mahim Bay as coincidentally there was high tide around the same time. The excess rainwater in the nullahs leading to Mithi were chocked with solid waste and other effluents and became a hindrance for the smooth water flow from the households to the Mahim Bay. 

Moreover, Mithi becomes crucial for Mumbai and its future with respect to climate change which will most likely result in rising sea level which is going to affect Mumbai significantly. With the city resting on reclaimed lands and much of the shoreline below the mean sea level the climate scientists have predicted the city to be gravely affected with time.  Flood of 2005 is considered as an event which is only set to take place once in 100 years but the predictions are becoming more diabolical and unprecedented. Thus, it becomes important for city of Mumbai to prepare itself and work for a climate resilient cityscape. 

Coming back to the flood of 2005, the event demonised Mithi and the citizens rose to the occasion to work for it. But the story of Mithi is a culmination of various tampering done in and around the banks. Mumbai is landlocked and is widely known for the land reclamation done to get the mainland to the present state, wherein what once used to be the seven islands of Mumbai is now a landmass which holds 22 million people. The following panel shows how morphological changes took place in the cityscape which in turn shaped the river and its form. 

Anusri 7

The course highlighted in blue is our Mithi, the river used to serve the drinking water demand for the city and also was fishing ground for the traditional Koli community, the early residents of the city. With the construction of the Mahim and Sion Causeway the river’s flood plain as seen the diagram was reshaped.


The three lakes of the City – Vihar, Tulsi and Powai Lake have emerged from the floodplains of Mithi. They were created to meet the growing demands of fresh water in Mumbai. With the growth in the city in terms of the population and shift in the city’s limits, the river has undergone shift in what it means to the city and its functions. In the last panel we can see that there are two major reclamations – the Central Business District which is the BKC (Bandra Complex) in 1976 and extension of runway of the CSMIAL (Airport of Mumbai) in 2004 which have further squeezed Mithi into the course it has today.

The BKC reclamation was to be materialised by the government after certain steps which included widening of Mithi, setting up of drainage system (storm and sewerage), dredging and certain other interventions but these weren’t followed up and the plan came through. The diversion of Mithi for the Airport involved the river to be bent twice at 90 degrees.

Thus, with all this creative tampering to Mithi, it was no surprise when it wasn’t able to perform as a storm water drain for the city and was viewed as the cause of the floods of 2005 and since then has been attributed different forms of restoration processes. Restoration of a river is a process to revive a river to its natural state.

Anusri 12

After the 2005 floods, several committee reports were produced suggesting measures for flood mitigation, remediation of pollution and removal of encroachments on the banks of the River. A statutory body- the Mithi River Development and Planning Authority (MRDPA) was formed to manage and coordinate all the agencies around the river’s development and management. The flood was a scenario which was the result of various factors which ranges from sustainable development practices of the city and management of city services. The repeated reasons identified as the cause for the floods are shown in the diagram above.

It’s been 14 years ever since the floods hit the city, the present Mithi looks no better than the nallah it was in 2005.

A recent study done in 2017 by NEERI and IIT-B states that the river is in a worse condition, the solid waste management system is still not in place for the area close to banks and paucity of land and funds is delaying the construction of sewer lines and sewage treatment plants in and around this area, though Mithi has been widened and channelised at many stretches but the area continues to flood (this is with respect to the 2017 floods in the city). All these recommendations have been stipulated and put forth by the experts since 1990s when the city started urbanising at fast rate.
When we look at state of affairs of Mithi, the logical question that springs up is where are we going wrong?

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Good and effective governance of the Mithi by both formal and informal institutions is the key hurdle. Governance here ranges right from the perception of the river by the people of the city and decision makers, to execution of different mechanisms to achieve it and the regualtion of the activities occuring in and around it. When we see the transformation of the governance landscape of the river below we get the idea of how deeply the river has been fragemented since the floods. The river prior to 1960 was under the jurisdiction of the Urban Local Body or the Local Government (MCGM). Over the years Mithi was divided into two parts- the upper portion which fell under the mandate of MCGM and lower portion which was under the Regional Development Authority (MMRDA). With the introduction of new departments like the Forest, Mangrove, Airport and others Mithi now is managed by several body with MRDPA being the steering agency for devleopment. The diagram below shows the governance scenario post the floods of 2005.


The change in the form of Mithi is apparent from the diagram along with the reduction in the mangrove cover and mudflats in the lower portion. The decentralisation of roles and responsibilities along with varied instruments of governance has led to fragmentation of Mithi which in turn has materialsed as mismanagement of practices and disorganised state of affairs for it.

Before any restoration plan begins it is important to understand the arrangements in which the river flows, its hydrology as a natural process. Moreover, flood needs to be seen as an incident which can occur thus preparatory, preventive and mitigative aspects of flood management become important which can reduce the damage caused by them but they have not received much attention. The belief and acceptance that the floods cannot be prevented, and that the technical and infrastructural interventions can work towards their control, management and minimisation, inevitably leaves only the option of rescue and relief operations for individuals and civil society organisations to work in flood prone areas (Prasad, Joy, Paranjape, & Vispute, 2012). The techno-centric arguments, analysis and prescriptions to address floods in India are also being supported by academic works which focus on these details, because of which various others facets of floods remain unattended. This highlights the need to understand floods beyond structural measures. The conflicting perceptions about structural measures like channelisation of the river, constructing dams and embankments, dredging the river and other measures to either prevent or mitigate floods; as solution which aggravates to the existing problems rather than mitigate them. Moreover there are different perceptions and on the ways in which the river and flood is conceptualised and the limits to “tame” rivers as the recommendations post the crisis, the differences are in the epistemology subjects itself and this varies across different institutions. It is “natural” for rivers to flood given their nature to flow and the fact that the practices around the river where subjected to this reality in the past, where the principle was “living with floods” rather than control and managing it.

Politics of practise

The limited knowledge of the experts and the fact that power rests in the hands of few has resulted in a scenario wherein the steering body for the river’s management and development has become a toothless agency which isn’t envisioning the rejuvenation of Mithi but it is an idea to convert it into a controlled system which gives return value in term of real estate and loses its riverine qualities in the process. The idea that building concrete walls on the river’s edge is a major step in mitigating floods and promoting river’s rejuvenation and entitling the encroachments is specific to vibrant and conducive informal settlements which have been residing in the area for their entire lifetime. While, the reclamations and construction along the Mithi is for the betterment of the future. This shows the hypocrisy and contradictions in the system which clearly is not in the best interests of the welfare for Mumbaikars (welfare of Mithi is a farfetched dream). The best practices which are idolised are those which have worked in a setting which doesn’t fit in our context nor does the sustainability of the system. Flooding persist even after all the measures but all this is at a cost, a cost and trade off that we are being very light hearted about practices which will not favour us in the future.

The diagram below shows the governance framework around Mithi, the attempt was to show various agencies performing their specific roles through instruments (mentioned on bottom left corner) and the hierarchy which exists at the local to the central level in decision making.

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As shown in the diagram the politics which exists around the urban political ecology of Mithi, the MCGM and MMRDA are the key agencies which are engaged in both conceptualisation of the plan for Mithi and its execution. The Empowering Committee is the central body which consists of people who represent different agencies given here and are supreme with respect to making the last calls. Institutions like NEERI, IIT-B, CWPRS are basic advisory bodies which don’t hold much power in persuasion. The regulatory authorities have a very passive role to play though the judiciary is last resort for the citizens who can voice their rights to the city.

It is the citizens who can reclaim Mithi and make it part of the city and its vision. The new infrastructure developments that are proposed and also under construction like the Metro Line 3, BKC Chunabati Connector are all set to ram their way above and below Mithi. The externalities of these development projects are studied superficially and the holistic picture to the different urban systems operating the city is never provided until the crisis. The picture which the research here attempted to understand was the lens with which Mithi is seen in the city with respect to floods and have uncovered a lot of grey rather than blue and green which certainly aren’t giving Room for the River (A programme in Netherlands which aims to create a sustainable and resilient systems around the river and waterscapes) but are promoting activities which are not able to put a stop to the pollution, concretisation of the river’s edges and prevent risk to the city in the near future.



Implications on Costs and Emissions of Electrification of Public Transport Buses

By Suvedh Jaywant

The urban transport sector in India currently faces the challenges of increased travel demand and trip lengths with a decrease in modal share of public transport (only 7% in India as against 30-35% in most of the countries) and increased private vehicles on roads (number of registered private vehicles in Indian cities is increasing by around 12% every year). This has resulted in an increase in traffic congestion issues, alarming levels of air pollution (concentration of PM10 in cities like Delhi is twice the WHO prescribed levels whereas that of PM2.5 is 17 times in Kanpur) and increase in related health problems (right from irritation in eyes and respiratory disorders to miscarriages and improper development of a child’s brain) , energy security issues due to higher energy demands by this oil dominated sector and rising green-house gas (GHG) emissions contributing to climate change. A new approach is needed to deal with these issues which involves decongestion of roads by promotion of public transport along with moving to a cleaner source of energy. Major cities in the world are looking at using electric buses for public transport as one of the probable solutions to address these issues. However, the electric buses are highly capital intensive as per today’s market conditions and a thorough analysis of the implications of having electric buses for public transport in an Indian scenario is required.

Most of the studies conducted so far have considered the indirect costs on health and pollution (which are notional) to check the viability of the electric buses and this study thus conducted a monetary cost-based analysis of having electric buses without considering the notional costs to understand the financial burden on the citizens using the public transport. The findings are applicable for Indian scenario in general.

For this analysis, a case study of the Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML), which is the municipal bus transport utility in Pune city was done. In Pune, the modal share of public transport was 18% as per the 2011 census which has been reducing continuously with the number of registered vehicles at 3.7 million for a population of 3.5 million in the year 2018. A study conducted by Shakti foundation in 2017 stated that the concentration of P.M 2.5 for Pune was 56.3 ± 12.9 μg/m3 which is much higher than the national standards (40 μg/m3 ) and five times that of the WHO guidelines (10 μg/m3 ) with 24.1% of these pollutants being the emissions from the transport sector. PMPML has an ambitious target of inducting 500 new-technology based fully electric buses in its fleet to tackle the issue of air-pollution in the city. It becomes necessary to evaluate the cost implications of this decision and the extent of the potential contribution of this move to mitigate pollution and emissions. The cost per kilometre (CPK) for different types of buses has been calculated for the city of Pune using the Total Cost of Ownership model and the current operational constraints based on costs of the current bus fleet of the PMPML.

The Table below shows the CPK for different bus variants at Business as Usual (BAU) scenario which tells us that it is already viable to use battery operated pure electric buses instead of pure diesel and hybrid buses in the AC bus segment. But overall, the CNG buses are still far cheaper as compared to electric buses.

Type of Expense Unit Diesel Non-AC CNG Non-AC Diesel AC Hybrid AC Electric AC Electric Non-AC
CapEx Lakh Rs ₹ 58.40 ₹ 84.00 ₹ 122.40 ₹ 235.15 ₹ 272.51 ₹ 247.40
OpEx Lakh Rs ₹ 623.04 ₹ 563.12 ₹ 779.70 ₹ 621.44 ₹ 529.29 ₹ 502.57
TCO Lakh Rs ₹ 681.44 ₹ 647.12 ₹ 902.10 ₹ 856.59 ₹ 801.80 ₹ 749.97
PV of TCO Crore Rs. ₹ 353.09 ₹ 343.30 ₹ 490.33 ₹ 503.25 ₹ 451.29 ₹ 422.51
CPK at PV of TCO Rs./km ₹ 39.34 ₹ 38.25 ₹ 54.63 ₹ 56.07 ₹ 50.28 ₹ 47.07

Further, if only operational expenditure is considered, the AC electric buses are cheaper than non-AC CNG buses by around 11.5% at BAU scenario which would further be cheaper once the battery rates go down.

The table below shows the tail-pipe emissions mitigated from this shift. It is indisputable that the electric buses will provide a clean local environment, but the net mitigation in carbon emissions is presently limited due to the coal dependent electricity.

Type of Bus CO Emissions
(Kg / year)
THC Emissions
(Kg / year)
NOx Emissions
(Kg / year)
PM Emissions
(Kg / year)
Diesel Non-Ac 351.51 30.46 93.74 2.34
CNG Non-AC 237.86 29.70 172.41 1.80
Electric Non-AC 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Diesel AC 562.42 48.74 149.98 3.75
Hybrid AC 224.97 19.50 59.99 1.50
Electric AC 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

The cost break-up of electric buses shows that 22% and 12% of the TCO was the capital cost and battery replacement cost respectively with more than 8% as the interest costs, which was huge as compared to 10% of TCO as capital cost and 2% as interest cost of Diesel buses.

Suvedh 1

If the battery rates come down as speculated, the lower cost of battery replacement would bring down the CPK of electric buses by ₹3 and availing interest free loan can further bring down the CPK by ₹3. The CPK of an AC electric bus would then be ₹4 more than that of a Non-AC CNG bus, and thus comparable. 

It was further found that AC electric buses would be at parity with non-AC CNG buses around 2023. If the CNG rates increase faster than expected or if capital is available at a lower rate of interest, this breakeven can happen earlier, or vice versa if the battery and bus prices do not come down as projected. Also, more GHG emissions can be mitigated if the share of renewables in the electricity is increased and possibilities of other innovative technologies like top-up charging using solar roof-top and opportunity charging are explored. This shows that the viability of electric buses in the future looks better than the present.

However, to replace all the existing buses by electric buses in a single year in 2023 will not be feasible as this will lead to huge financial burden on PMPML in a single year, and some of the buses need to be replaced even before 2023 as they complete their 12 years of life. Thus, a phase wise replacement of the existing fleet is suggested based on the age of the buses. 

The high capital costs of electric buses are compensated by low operating costs as compared to diesel and CNG buses. But the benefit of low operating cost of the electric buses can be reaped only when the buses are able to run for the scheduled kilometres every day unlike today’s case where the scheduled trips are not completed due to the traffic congestion. Having electric buses in Public transport is just one of the components of the multi-dimensional solution that is required to make the urban transportation clean, affordable, and reliable in the country, which needs to be accompanied by the larger practice of changing the way cities and transportation systems are planned.

Thus, this study goes beyond using the notional costs of emissions and health of the citizens in order to check the viability of electric buses in the municipal transport fleet and finds out that having electric buses is not financially viable presently but looks promising in the future. It is recommended to have air-conditioned electric buses in the fleet of municipal transport buses in order to mitigate the carbon emissions, have a clean local environment, enhance the comfort of the passengers using public transport, and increase in the modal share of public transport in Indian cities. Innovative financing mechanisms need to be explored to reduce the financial burden of the high capital cost on the transport undertakings or the citizens using public transport, till the electric buses become financially viable. Else, it would just be a replay of  the international situation of inequitable sharing of the mitigation burden (where citizens using the Public Transport have to bear the costs of cleaning-up the environment) that the Government of India so vehemently opposes at the climate change negotiations internationally.