Digital Labour Markets and the Future of Work in Indian Cities.

Urban Futures – March 8th to 12th 2021

Digital Labour Markets and the Future of Work in Indian Cities

What is platform urbanism? How is it changing our cities and the nature of our urban economy? What are the challenges and issues that workers working in digital labour markets face?

Urban Futures is one of the hallmark courses of the Masters program in Urban Policy and Governance. Conceived as a space where students get to explore emerging and cutting edge urban issues, Urban Futures is usually held in the final semester of the Masters coursework. It is an intensive week-long workshop anchored by an urban practitioner. 

This year, the Urban Futures course focused on the concept of Platform Economies and the way the character of urban work, mediated by media and technology, will change in the future. It was facilitated by Ms Aditi Surie from Indian Institute of Human Settlements, Bangalore. Aditi is an urban researcher, sociologist and a consultant with IIHS. Her area of expertise is at the complex and unfolding intersections of labour, technology and economy. You can find her official profile here:

Sixteen students from second year MA/MSc Urban Policy and Governance participated in the course in March 2021.  Due to Covid 19 restrictions the course was conducted fully online. Using labor platforms, specifically hyperlocal platforms, the students explored the techno-capital forms impacting what counts as work, how work is conducted, the relationship of workers to firms. They looked at mobility patterns, home services, delivery and logistics platforms that are present in Bangalore and other Indian metros. The focus was on understanding about the design, business decisions and technological set-up of a digital platforms and how this creates a digital labor market. These insights were then contextualized within the nature of precarious life and work in the Indian city. It brought home the multifarious factors that can cause inequality in the platform economy and explored what decent work means in the case of digital platforms. 

UPG student Milan shared,

“The course on Urban Futures introduced me to the emerging field called Platform Urbanism. I was thoroughly engrossed in it and I enjoyed the topic. I was engaging with issues in Platform Urbanism for the first time and enjoyed the discussions. All in all, it introduced me to something new which I appreciate and the Prof ensured that learning remains active and thoughtful.” 

“The  was very well designed and focused. There was a lot of scope for discussion and deliberation. The assignments were fun, flexible. The content was not only relevant but also presented in a very engaging manner.” said Roopkatha, student UPG.

The classes and discussions were participatory and interactive where students used tools like Miro Board to interact with each other. Students were provided with  readings to get a deeper understanding and perspectives on platform economy. The assignments were arranged in a way that drew from class activities and also provided in-depth research exposure.

Archana, a student, had the following to say

“The  was rich in its curriculum and very engaging in terms of its pedagogy. I was personally able to appreciate the knowledge addition and the practical exercises we undertook to better understand digital platforms. Being fairly new to the topic, I felt like Ms. Surie gave us a great introduction to the subject. I still try to follow new developments in the field of digital platforms through newly published papers and Twitter news. I believe that instilling lasting curiosity is the best way that professors can ensure their students remain engaged with their subjects and I can say that that’s more than true of the Urban Futures ”

Online mode was challenging than regular physical classrooms where teaching, discussions and activities are easier and engaging for both the instructor and students. About conducting the course online, Aditi shared, “The responses from students have been really great. Students were very nice and happy to do the course. 2021 was challenging and extremely energy consuming as an instructor. In the course, there is an activity to do an algorithmic walk around a particular space with a mindset of an algorithm and computational thinking. This was very complicated to do online because each student was in a different environment and a different physical space so it added some complexity to do those activities.”

VIDEO – Launch of MAKE/BREAK – a Digital Exhibition that traces the violence of Mumbai’s transformation into a “world-class” city.

VIDEO – MAKE/BREAK launch event.MAKE/BREAK – a Digital Exhibition that traces the violence of Mumbai’s transformation into a “world-class” city.

The exhibition emerged from a research project about the effect of the ongoing socio-spatial transformation of Mumbai on marginalised communities in the city and their responses to it. The researchers approached urban transformations through the concept of structural violence.

The case studies tell stories of the unjust peripheralization, marginalization, stigmatization of urban poor communities and illuminate their efforts to resist the violence, remake the city, and reclaim their dignity.

Do visit the exhibition here

A walk through of the exhibition with the researchers from Centre for Urban Policy and Governance (CUPG) as they discuss the idea behind the exhibition and the process of co-creating it.

Reflections by panelists on the exhibition theme and its wider relevance to the global South. Followed by Q and A with the panelists, researchers and participants.


Nitin Kubal is a committed community activist and leader from Jogeshwari East, Mumbai.

Raquel Rolnik is a professor, architect, activist and urban planner based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She has served as the UN Special Rapporteur for adequate housing.

AbdouMaliq Simone is an urban scholar based in the UK and has worked extensively with urban social movements in South Africa, Indonesia, Chicago.

Moderated by Sangeeta Banerji, Post-doctoral Research Associate, Brown University.


Amita Bhide, Dean, School of Habitat Studies, TISS, Mumbai.

Himanshu Burte, Associate Professor, CUSE, IIT Bombay.

Lalitha Kamath, Associate Professor and Chairperson, CUPG, TISS Mumbai.

Ratoola Kundu, Assistant Professor, CUPG, TISS Mumbai.

Watch the Video of the launch event. Do share and subscribe to channel.



JAGA Mission, under the Housing & Urban Development Department, Government of Odisha, aims at transforming the slums into liveable habitat with all necessary civic infrastructure and services, to continuously improve the standard of living and access to livelihood opportunities by implementing the Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act, 2017.

The JAGA Mission granted in-situ, heritable and non-transferable land titles to as many as 200,000 households living in 2,000 slums in Odisha.

What lessons can we draw from JAGA Mission?

What were the real obstacles to this radical process of land titling?

What kind of technological and governance innovations were required in order to operationalise the scheme on the ground, given the complexity of issues around land titles in India?

What are the unintended consequences of granting land titles?

Were some groups persistently neglected or excluded from such schemes, thus exacerbating existing socioeconomic inequalities?

This panel engages with these questions while attempting to understand whether and how land titles make a difference to the urban poor.


Chair: BHUVANESWARI RAMAN, Professor, O P Jindal School of Government and Public Policy

Panelist: ANTARIN CHAKRABARTY, Senior Researcher and State Team Lead, JAGA (Odisha Liveable Habitat) Mission, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

Panelist: ANAND LAKHAN, Housing and land rights activist from Indore, co-convener of the National Forum for Housing Rights India

Panelist: GOBINDA DALAI, Mentor and Co-founder of Yuva Vikas, Odisha; Former consultant on policy and implementation space in housing, water, sanitation and governance with Govt of Odisha.Do watch and Share.Subscribe the Channel.

Do watch and Share.

Resurrecting Mumbai: Discussing challenges and strategies towards framing an inclusive action-plan for post-COVID sustainability

Mumbai has been dealt a blow by the COVID 19 pandemic with long term implications for its citizens. Questions arise about its planning and development trajectory, its ability to deal with future environmental shocks and pandemics. In the report Resurrecting Mumbai, Prof. Amita Bhide, Dean and Professor, School of Habitat Studies, weighs in on the issues and the possible directions to guide Mumbai’s path to recovery.


Here is our 12th community story, ‘Creating Communities of Care’, where residents of Cheetah Camp in Mankhurd have transformed a BMC school in their neighbourhood into a quarantine facility. The centre is equipped to accommodate almost 25 patients, and conduct saliva tests and assess oxygen levels. In light of the inaccessibility of private and state run medical facilities during the pandemic, the members of Cheetah Camp hope to be able to ease the distress of the community through the setting up of this facility.

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#Covid19 #community #urban


Our 11th community story is about Prakash, a social worker from the community in the Mankhurd Transit Camp. Prakash noticed that the transit camp, a marginalised and vulnerable community, was being left out of mainstream relief efforts. In order to address this, he contacted Professor Amita Bhide and other NGOs, and conducted a survey of over 1200 households in the area to assess their needs, their levels of access to hygiene products and food, and prioritize relief efforts. Prakash’s leadership has enabled the community to access food and water, part time employment in government quarantine centres, and timely medication.

Prakash’s leadership has helped the entire community feel safer and better looked after during these trying times. We’re honoured to learn about his story and share it with others.

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#TISSCOVID19Response #urban #COVID19


Here is our 10th story about reaching out to communities and individuals at risk during the pandemic. Irshad Sheikh, a member of the M-East Ward, with help from Transforming M Ward, TISS, helps manage five community kitchens in the area that feed close to 6,000 individuals each day. The idea for setting up these kitchens came from the inaccessibility of local shelters, which are overcrowded and have long queues. Irshad Sheikh says that collecting resources has been challenging, but he hopes to be able to continue the kitchens for as long as the lockdown extends.
#TISSCOVID19Response #community #covid19 #urban

NIUA IDEATHON – Nudging Civic Behavior towards an Environment-Friendly Delhi

Here is our second presentation from the NIUA Ideathon that our Masters students from the Centre of Urban Policy and Governance participated in. Here they share their innovative measures for managing the task they were assigned and how the curriculum at the Centre has contributed to their knowledge of the urban.

Topic: Conserving water at household and neighbourhood level

Team members: Vipul Kumar, Akhil Ravella, Milan Sharma, Anmol Rana

We took a problem-centric approach intending to understand why water conservation is low and what causes wastage of water at the household level. We started off with trying to understand which type of settlements were the major users in Delhi that could be easily targeted to nudge behavior. We aimed to determine how we can nudge the behaviour of citizens to reduce the demand for water while using existing meausres, and by specifically targeting the problem that causes maximum wastage within the household.

Our first intervention creates a rating system for water appliances. By promoting water rating for taps, faucets, washing machines, shower heads, etc. we wished to nudge consumers to water-efficient appliances, similar on the lines of electrical appliances. The aim was not only to nudge behavioural change, but to make water conservation a priority in the household. Manufacturers are central to this idea, who were to be incentivised for such products, while the government promotes them in the market, housing projects/public offices, public toilets, making them an attractive option. As the products find their way in the market, awareness about the importance of such products would initiate change for consumers of the new water appliance market.

Our second intervention focuses on regulation in the functioning of ROs. This was decided as we observed that most households used ROs irrespective of the TDS (total dissolved solids) in water being supplied low. ROs typically waste 3 litres of water with every 1 litre of processed water. Hence, we decided that every household that requires an RO connection needs to get an approval from the board certifying that their TDS levels are high, making it  obligatory for the RO company to provide a permanent storage tank, fixed beside the sink, where the wastewater can be collected with a mechanism to extract the wastewater. Moreover, the RO provider needs to issue a pamphlet in Hindi and English regarding various ways in which water can be utilised, like washing utensils, cleaning floors, clothes, etc.


Lastly, our third intervention was to make some changes in the water bill. We came up with an idea of including some data through easily understandable graphs regarding the past 4-5 months’ usage. This would be compared to the national average consumption level and neighbourhood consumption level. The bill would show a happy face if your consumption is below neighbourhood levels and sad face if your consumption level is above neighbourhood levels. And, there would be conservation tips on the back side of the bill. This intervention would nudge citizen’s behaviour eventually with data on consumption levels displayed, which would make them conscious about their consumption behaviour.

As a group we thought about some of the limitations with regard to our proposals., such as increased financial and administrative costs on Delhi government in terms of setting up a Nudge Unit and changes in design of water bills. Water is a state subject and an important political concern in Delhi, as currently the state government provides free water to some extent. The demand pattern needs to be analyzed by experimenting at a smaller level. Regulating the functioning of ROs in Delhi is a major challenge as it is a major lobby and bringing in certain interventions can put extra financial burden on RO companies which they can pass on to customers if not regulated properly.

The UPG course helped us to analyze the topic in a structured way – that is critically analyzing the issues. The course is designed to push students to identify the problems in a constructive manner before proposing a solution. This allowed us to consider the issue from a social, political, economical, and technical aspect. As we followed the approach, it brought us to possible solutions. The group participation added to our overall experience, encouraging constructive discussion, and offering a diverse range of perspectives.

NIUA IDEATHON – Nudging Civic Behavior towards an Environment-Friendly Delhi

The National Institute of Urban Affairs organised an Ideathon on the topic ‘Ideathon on ‘Nudging Civic Behavior towards an Environment-Friendly Delhi’ to invite ideas and strategies to be considered under the Master Plan of Delhi 2041. Our students from CUPG participated in the contest, and devised innovative ideas to address several concerns of urban governance, sustainability, policy, and civic participation. Students were divided into groups, with each group assigned specific problems to work on.

Here is the first installment of students’ experiences from their participation in the contest.

Topic: Segregating Solid Waste at Household Level

Team Members: Aadya Saxena, Aishwarya Dixit, Goutham Raj Konda, S. Prema Swarupa and Simran Pal Kaur.

We understand that an effective strategy for managing waste has to start with segregation of solid waste at the source of generation but this challenge has yet not achieved a holistic solution. Using the concept of the ‘nudge theory’, based on influencing how people think and behave, we aimed at improving people’s default decision-making for waste segregation among the residents of Delhi through a realistic approach.

We strategised to nudge community level accountability in order to foster household and community level waste segregating behaviour. We proposed to create smaller wing communities by grouping the society with 5 or 6 households. We proposed both positive and negative nudges with the belief that people often like to be conformists and that they often function with moral obligations.  The positive nudges were: celebration of the occasion of installation of dual dustbins to remove ideas of disgust associated with it; involving the children in the process; rotation of responsibility of families every month to keep a check on segregation and using space-intensive bins in low-income neighbourhoods while simultaneously reducing dumping in the drains. The negatives nudges were: listing out the households in notices displayed on public information boards, serving letters to their homes for not segregating waste, highlighting the consequences of not segregating waste on their community and environment during the community meetings. Our strategy was based on the understanding that environment knowledge, moral obligation and perceived behavioral control will influence the attitude and  separation intention which will prompt people to build a waste separation behaviour. However, this strategy has to persist regularly to be effective and achieve the goal of waste segregation.



In our course- Urban Policy and Governance, we have often critically discussed the Master Plans and have realised the significance of citizen engagement.  Participating in this Ideathon was a good opportunity for us to brainstorm together and build on the learnings that we have had in our classes. Our course has often allowed us the space to experiment and ideate together for group work and helped us to improve our capacities to think clearly through classroom discussions. Our understanding of subjects such as sanitation and solid waste management, further bolstered our confidence to think about the topic.  We saw this Ideathon as a chance to begin influencing some decision making in the procedure of planning for our cities to make it more sustainable and socially equitable ones.  It was also an enriching experience to learn from the other teams about their ideas. The open discussion at the end of the session also helped us reflect on our ideas and opinions further.