Negotiating Boundaries: The Work Dynamics of Gudimalkapur Market

By Isha Fuletra

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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?

Anusri 11

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.



Home Away from Home: Tales of Migration and Placemaking in Humayunpur

By Arunav Chowdhury

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A Northeastern woman buying vegetables in Humayunpur.

The balcony in Cultured, a cafe in Humayunpur, Delhi, gives a good vantage point of the daily happenings in the streets — women walking the streets in their chic winter coats, men in trendy hairstyles going to office in their formal attire and people coming out to buy their daily groceries. On the same street one can see the local men of the village sitting in front of their houses with a hookah and a bonfire. Most of the young tenants in this urban village in Delhi are from the North Eastern states. As I sat in the cafe with Agnes, an Arunachali student who has been staying in Humayunpur for more than five years now, she tells me about the first time she discovered the place, “It was way back in 2011, I had come to Delhi for the first time for my admissions and came here to meet some school friends who were already staying here. Back then, I didn’t know there were places like this in Delhi where you could only see familiar faces”. This ‘sense of familiarity’ was a common refrain among many young migrants I spoke to in Humayunpur.

Humayunpur is in a prime location in South Delhi; the Safdarjung Hospital, the outer ring road, Green Park Metro Station all being at a distance of around 1km. In the 1960s, the government of India acquired the farmlands of the villagers in Humayunpur and sold it to DLF, which was then redeveloped into the nearby upper-middle class colony of Safdarjung Enclave, and Humayunpur survived as a tiny hamlet away from the eyes of the main roads. Ashish Phogat, a local Jat said, “What happened to Humayunpur is what happens to old parents and grandparents, kids grow up and forget their old parents”. 

Bhan (2014) writes, “In order to be able to retain their character urban villages were exempt from any building norms, mixed-use or single use zoning classifications.” The villagers added floors to their houses and started renting out the buildings initially to migrants coming from UP, Bihar and Nepal. In the early 2000s, Northeastern migrants started coming in which coincided with the call-centre boom in the National Capital Region. “At one time around 400 employees of Convergys were staying in Humayunpur”, said Ashish Phogat. Through word-of-mouth, more people started to shift to the place, especially students studying in the University. Over the years it has come to be characterised as a ‘North-eastern’ neighbourhood, finding an important place in the “North-East Map of Delhi” (Mcduie-Ra, 2014). What Mcduie-Ra refers to by the North-East Map is a set of practices and places through which migrants from the Northeast circumvent and navigate their way in the city through neighbourhoods, food, faith, and protest.

Arunav Dissertation 2
 Entangled Wires and ‘Handshake Buildings’ – A common sight in Humayunpur

As recently as 2014, the death of Nido Taniam after an altercation with shopkeepeers in Lajpat Nagar shook the Northeastern community in the city. In a city infamous for its racial attacks, how did the North-Eastern community went about making place in an area socially and culturally distinct from their homes? The North-Easterners are not a homogeneous community and consists of different communities with their own traditions and histories. This ‘virtual’ community which has come up in Humayunpur and in other parts of Delhi has risen out of new networks developed in the city through work, university etc. and a feeling of safety in their combined large numbers against a racial other. They co-exist with the locals while maintaining a careful distance from each other, what one can call it is a ‘friendly difference’. The Northeast communities reiterate that Humayunpur is probably the ‘safest’ place for them in Delhi, the locals here are ‘friendlier’ than other parts of Delhi, and one can roam its streets at any time of the night without any fear. 

Ashish Phogat is the husband of Radhika Abrol Phogat, the local corporator and is the de-facto leader of the Jat community. He and his extended family own a considerable number of properties in the village and have good relations with many of the Northeastern migrants. His brother, Virender talked at great length about how the economic exchange has greatly benefited the two communities. Inspite of the money coming in, there still seems to be some form of resentment among some of the villagers. Om Prakash, a member of the Valmiki community laments the change brought about by the migrants in the village, “They started affecting our younger generations starting from their dressing to everything. I once had a tenant from Manipur, he was a nice boy but he used to eat this smelly fish and the stench was horrible”.

Bijoy, an Assamese migrant who owns a jampad/music store in the village tells me initially he and his friends were not even not allowed to cook chicken in their homes. Over a period of time this was relaxed to them being allowed cook chicken once a week and now most of the restaurants in the area serve meat, including pork and buff, and the newer generation also relishes these dishes, albeit secretly. David, the owner of Mizo Diner, a restaurant serving ethnic Mizo food, has actively engaged with the surroundings of the village. David is a graffiti artist and his paintings can be found in different nooks and corners of the village.

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David’s graffiti on one of the remaining old village-style houses in Humayunpur

He said that through these paintings he has interacted more with the local community and was even invited for dinner at their homes. The villagers are happy that he paints for “free”. While talking about the attitudinal changes of the locals towards the migrants, he said, “Money talks. The locals are profiting from us, why should they have any problems with us?”

After securing their place through this negotiated place-making with the local community, the Northeast migrants have gone about more concrete ways in establishing their foothold in the city. Most of them refer to the village as “Safdarjung”, thereby clubbing Humayunpur with the planned area to draw on its legitimacy to the city at large. The spatialisation of this place-making is manifested physically in the umpteen number of restaurants, cafes, boutiques and Northeast convenience stores found across the village. Migrants looking to secure their lives in the city by finding ways of livelihood that would cement their foothold in Humayunpur have led to a bustling market in the main lane of Humayunpur.

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A Bowl of Mohinga Ramyun Soup in Mohinga-The Taste of Myanmar. Mohinga is one of the recent eateries in the village, opened by Rohit, who grew up in the Manipur-Myanmar border.

Asha, a Tangkhul woman from Manipur started selling smoked pork and pork cooked in a rice cooker from her home. Word spread and her customers grew, who then started demanding for other herbs and ingredients. Three years later she opened the Asha Tangkhul store with the help of another woman who helped her bring the stuff from Manipur through her travel agency. Today she sells a variety of food items, herbs and vegetables indigenous to the region like bamboo shoot, fermented fish and soyabean, smoked buffalo, king chillies, Nagalasung (spring onion) etc. along with Korean ramen noodles and Myanmarese products which are normally found in Moreh, the border town in the Manipur-Myanmar border. Her customers come from all over the NCR-region. Her youngest sister is married to Swaraj, a Nepali from Darjeeling. The couple used to live in South-Extension but shifted to Humayunpur when she opened her store. Swaraj opened a boutique to the space left of Urban Ethic. In 2016, they opened a restaurant Asha Kitchen, next to the store. The restaurant has simple interiors with white walls and basic furniture compared to most of the new restaurants and cafes which have opened in Humayunpur. The new cafes like Cultured have invested in interior design like having an open kitchen; modelling it on other ‘hip’ places in the city. Swaraj and Asha splits their time between the three places, and the other two sisters also helping out from time-to-time. Asha store is like the ‘centre’ of the market as most of the migrants come to do their weekly shopping here and it also becomes a point of contact to find houses for new migrants coming in from Manipur.

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Asha Store in Humayunpur

Many such stories are abound in the lanes of Humayunpur. The relationship of the migrant community with this place at times is one of emotional attachment, the most common reply being, “It’s just like home”. However underlying this “home” are also other factors like their associational or community networks and proximity to university and workplace. The temporality of settling in is then reflected in the shifting and sprouting of other “Northeastern-neighbourhoods” in Delhi. Humayunpur is transforming everyday with newer and more upscale restaurants replacing the former smaller ones. Rents are also rising with many of the older migrants now finding it difficult to continue living here. Some of the people in the village says that it will soon become like Hauz Khas Village, a nearby urban village which is now glittered with expensive pubs and restaurants. 

Many migrants who have spent a considerable time in Humayunpur says that it has become an integral part of their lives. Agnes says, “When we talk about spaces like home, Delhi is my second home, and in Delhi it is Humayunpur. This is one place I can always come back to, even if I don’t have friends I’ll always be welcome here”. 



Bhan, G. (2013). Planned illegalities: Housing and the ‘failure’ of planning in Delhi: 1947-2010. Economic and Political Weekly, 58-70.

McDuie-Ra, D. (2012). The ‘North-East’ Map of Delhi. Economic and Political Weekly, 69-77.



Home-based Work: Voices of Women from Mumbai slums

Article by Sharvari Pawar (Guest Writer)

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Sample Imitation Jewelry

Mumbai is a city of dreams for hundreds of people who migrate to the city on a daily basis. As per the census 2011 data, the population of Mumbai was 12.4 million and since then the urban population has been increasing. Urbanization has resulted in slum proliferation in a megacity like Mumbai. Nearly 41.84% of people reside in slums in Mumbai (Mumbai City Census data, 2011). Most slum dwellers eke a living by working in the informal sector. Through the voices of women in Ambojwadi this article gives a glimpse into the lives of Mumbai’s home-based women workers.

Ambojwadi, located in Malad West is densely populated slum with a population of nearly 35000, majority of them belonging to Dalit, Muslim and Pasi Pardi community. There are migrants belonging to the Pasi Pardi community hailing from Solapur, the western belt of Maharashtra and others from Uttar Pradesh. History of the region reflects complex resettlement and rehabilitation policies of the state government. Around 728 project affected families were resettled in Ambojwadi in 1995. YUVA, a non-governmental organization has played an influential role in organizing the community for their basic rights. Daily expenditure on basic needs and resources such as water and sanitation ( shared toilets) are high. People’s movements, community-based organizations have also contributed towards the development of the slum community. The area has been declared as a non-development zone by the government authorities. Hence, it is not considered under the development plan of Mumbai ,according to a representative from YUVA organization).

Most people in the slum work in the informal sector. Males are working as daily wage workers, naka workers, labourers in the construction industry, street vendors, auto-rickshaw drivers and few are working in private companies. Women are engaged in home-based work and some are working as domestic workers in the neighbouring prime locations in Malad. In 2011-12, 80% of the urban workforce in India was informally employed, home-based work was the largest sector representing 14 percent of total urban employment and 17 percent of urban informal employment (Chen M, 2011).

“I am residing in Ambojwadi for 18 years, during my days of hardships this work has helped me survive bad days of life. Being a single parent to my 14 children, every day is a new challenge to sustain and survive. Every day I contribute my 4 hours to this work. We are paid as per the piece-rate which is Rs 3.50 per set of hair clips and imitation jewellery made”, said Mrs. Khan (name changed). Following neighbours’ footsteps, Mrs. Khan started working from home. The sub-contractor provides the raw materials to the Khan family. Raw materials include jewellery set, jewellery stones, glue stick, etc. The set is made and is then sold in the famous Natraj market of Malad. Patience and concentration are the most important factors required while working on imitation jewellery. Mrs. Khan said, “There are bruises on the hands of my daughter-in-law, we all suffer from irritation and pain in the eyes, sometimes we feel giddy too if we sit to work for long hours”. The glue used to stick the stones is corrosive in nature. Jewellery stones are usually fixed with bare hands without using hand gloves increasing direct contact and exposure to chemicals present in the glue. Further sitting for long hours in the same position creates a potential threat to their physical health.

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Other articles made through home-based work

Home-based work is easier for women as they can balance their family time and work accordingly. Mrs. Khan’s day starts with managing the household chores and afternoon free slot is being utilized for work. Her daughter after coming from school contributes four hours in preparing the sets. Urmi (name changed) said, “After coming from school every day, I have my lunch and help Ammi in preparing these sets”. When asked about studies, she said, “This doesn’t affect my studies as I manage my time and study in the evening”. Other family members also contribute their time to home-based work. Mrs. Khan said that her daughter and daughter-in-law were paid as per their contribution to the work. Family stressors often bring in the wave of responsibilities.

Demand and supply mechanism is followed wherein the materials are prepared as per the demand from the contractor. Usually prepared in gross, they are paid Rs 3.50 paise per piece. The product is rejected if there are any defects. Even minor defects such as over spilled glue, mismatched stones lower the quality of the product and is therefore rejected and the contractor deducts the amount as per the set rate. Mrs. Khan said, “ In case of any defect the product is rejected by the contractor and we are charged as per the rate of the jewellery set. Sometimes we have to bear the loss of the entire set which is two to three times higher than the actual amount ”.

Mrs. Khan also mentioned that when asked for a hike in gross rate the demands of the women are ignored despite having cordial relations with the sub-contractors, the contractors often cut ties in case of high demands of income.

Creating the best business from waste

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Preparing Buff Maal 

“What is this about?”, I asked Mrs. Ansari, as I was fascinated by the rags hanging Mrs. Ansari said, these are not rags, it is called as ‘buff maal’ , it is used in the stainless-steel polish industry. To gain insights about the nature of work I started probing about the processing and working mechanisms.

Mrs. Ansari said, “We have been running this business from past 8 years. We collect rags and old clothes from local vendors and factories and use this raw material in making the rag sheets. The raw materials include plastic rag sheets, old clothes (chindi), homemade glue (glue is made in a large container using refined wheat flour (maida), hot water, and flea and insect repellents). The glue prepared is organic in nature and non-hazardous. The process is easy wherein we just have to stick the rag sheets together with the glue barehanded and dry in the sunlight. The rags once dried are packed and exported to the companies. After ‘buff ka maal’ is made, it is handed over to the contractor or company which further stitches those materials, processes it and uses as stainless-steel polish.”.
The buff material made is sold as per piece made. They earn Rs.100 after selling 120 pieces. Rs 80 is given to the labourer hired and Rs 20 is their earnings. Mrs. Ansari shared that an old woman was hired as labourer. She was paid Rs 80 for 120 sets made in addition to the gifts given on special occasions.This kind of material is also made in other parts of Mumbai such as Goregaon, Malad East. Mrs. Ansari’s company was located in Kandivali earlier. But now they have shifted to Vasai Virar. When asked about how profitable it is Mrs.Ansari said, “The earnings made through this business has kept our economic status stable, I was able to pay hospital charges of my husband and fees of my daughter through the earnings made by this. Investment is very low where we have to invest in purchasing the old clothes which we purchase at Rs 1- 2 per kg from the nearby factories. The unique concept of starting a small business by reusing waste products is one of the best ways of utilizing resources.

Sumati Tai, a staff member of Yuva said, “Women working in the home-based work in Ambujwadi mainly prepare imitation jewellery. Long years back, metal work was done on a large scale. Income earned was much more. Those working in home-based work get very less amount for their work. Time spent, energy utilized versus the income earned is very less. Currently, few women are associated with the organization through self-help groups, mahila mandals and Astitva Mulbhut Sansadan Kendra”.

Another staff member of YUVA Mr. Amit said, “We have been organizing the women through our collective action groups. Recently we initiated an idea of quilt making with the women who are working on sewing machines. Women prepared a few quilts to understand the process and nature of work. Later they received orders from us and few sources. Small quilts were sold for Rs 150 each, we purchased from them as a way to encourage them to use their skills to the best of their knowledge”.

Women should be motivated and encouraged to learn and grow and use their capabilities to the fullest and the home-based work should be recognized. The income earned through home-based work in comparison to the efforts and time contributed is very less. Organizations like SEWA, WIEGO have contributed through their intervention towards home-based work for women. In order to support the home-based women workers, an integrated approach should be followed wherein initial steps should include organizing women, studying the nature of work, understanding the market dynamics and involve them in the huge chain of the informal economy. Community-based organizations can intervene in upscaling the health of home-based workers and work with the secondary target audience such as their children and family members. Formation of home-based workers association and board in each area can create a space for home-based workers to voice their opinions and contribute their views on organizing home-based work.

Sharwari Pawar is a Research Associate with the Centre for Environmental Health, School of Habitat Studies

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MUPG Graduate Student Series (2017-2019)

Name of Graduating Student: Anusri Tiwari

In this interview series, our recent graduates of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance Program (2017-2019) share their experiences, insights, and remarks about the Program.

The Masters in Urban Policy and Governance is a 2-year intensive program which combines perspectives and insights from a range of disciplines to enable students to re-imagine the urban, especially in the context of the globalising present. The programme aims to equip its graduates to intervene effectively on urban habitat issues through their work in public, private, and civil society organisations.

*Note: The thoughts shared here are personal to each student and not of the Centre or School.

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MUPG Graduate Student Series (2017-2019)

Name of Graduating Student: Kunal Chaturvedi

In this interview series, our recent graduates of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance Program (2017-2019) share their experiences, insights, and remarks about the Program.

The Masters in Urban Policy and Governance is a 2-year intensive program which combines perspectives and insights from a range of disciplines to enable students to re-imagine the urban, especially in the context of the globalising present. The programme aims to equip its graduates to intervene effectively on urban habitat issues through their work in public, private, and civil society organisations.

*NoteThe thoughts shared here are personal to each student and not of the Centre or School.