Mumbai: A City of Contrasts
This exploration will be conducted with the purpose of investigating the consequences of socio-economic inequality in Mumbai.
“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
–Plutarch, ancient Greek biographer (c. 46 – 120 CE)
These aspects will be considered and investigated:
1. What are the aspects that contribute to this socio-economic inequality?
2. What are the inevitable implications of this disparity?
3. What are the government's policies regarding housing in Mumbai? How have they changed over time?
4. How could we improve accessibility and quality of housing options for the poorest urban residents?
5. How could we alleviate this socio-economic inequality?
Below is a video titled: "How economic inequality harms societies", and is a Ted talk by Richard Wilkinson.
Mumbai: An Introduction
Despite not being the Capital city of India, Mumbai holds its place as the most populous city in India, and as the country's financial, commercial and entertainment centre. Lying on India's west coast, Mumbai has a deep natural harbour, and holds the status of a major seaport in the Arabian Sea. The city also happens to be home to the country's television and film industry, widely known as Bollywood.
City Population: 18.4 million estimated, largest city in India. It is projected that by 2020, Mumbai’s population will see a sharp increase to 28 million, making it the world’s most populous city.
Here are some quick facts:
Mumbai has only 1.1 square meters of open space per person.
‘Bombay’ actually consists of 7 islands. The space between these islands was reclaimed during a series of landfill projects during the British Colonial era.
Mumbai has the largest number of malls in India.
Mumbai is home to India's first train, bus and aviation systems.
Mumbai's literacy rate is 85.6% (female: 82.7%, male: 90%) compared with India's overall literacy of 65.4%.
Mumbai is responsible for 40% of international cargo, 38% of international air passenger traffic, 26% of domestic traffic and 25% of domestic air passenger traffic in India.
Mumbai ranks as the 4th wealthiest city in Asia, with 28 billionaires, and a combined worth in assets of approximately $97 billion.
Mumbai is home to the largest slum in Asia.
Mumbai is a city of contrasts - where poverty and affluence co-exist.
The stark reality is that 60% of Mumbai residents are living in acute poverty, with over 750,000 people estimated to live in the city's slum district, Dharavi.
Slums generally occur and develop due to hyper-urbanisation. In a mega city like Mumbai, it is seen as a place of new opportunities and of wealth - this results in massive waves of rural-urban migration. Cities are often unable to cope with the swell in population, and the socio-economic consequences of this are evident. Dharavi is full of businesses, religious buildings, and industries - with much of this happening illegally - but in many ways, it is a fully sustainable community. The living conditions in the slums are grave, meaning that the residents suffer from issues such as waste management, the scarcity of sanitary facilities, hygienic conditions and lack of medical care.
Below is a video that presents further insight on Dharavi, the second-largest slum in Asia.
The damaging implications of this socio-economic inequality are most evident in the high mortality rate, low literacy levels, inadequate housing, and lack of access to basic resources and healthcare. The poor are not able to keep up with the rapid growth and high cost of living in Mumbai.
The poor of Mumbai often suffer a sense of discrimination from their richer neighbours. Not only is their access to health care very limited, when seeking out medical care, they are often refused as patients, due to their status. This is a manifestation of socio-economic inequality. The economic conditions of families, as well as the strong Indian caste system exacerbate this disparity, making it increasingly difficult for anyone to break out of the cycle of poverty. The caste system and resulting marginalization and discrimination is simply dismissed as the culture. This is not irreversible, and neither is the Wealth Gap, it just warrants immediate and efficient attention and governance.
Looking to the Future
This is a plan to tackle the slowing of economic growth in Mumbai, and to increase the living standards of residents in the city.
The targeted areas include:
- Removing slums
Vision Mumbai aims to remove slums, to sell the land and to implement redevelopment projects. In terms of resettlement, public housing estates for slum residents would be built. Shopping malls, apartment blocks and offices would be built for the middle class.
- Improvements in infrastructure
- Boosting economic growth
- Making governance more efficient
How would this turn out?
As a result, over 900,000 jobs would potentially be created, in the financial, construction, and retail sectors. In so doing, this could potentially alleviate the city's economic inequality to a notable extent. The target areas seem balanced, and the project targets both the poor and the rich, theoretically improving the living standard for all. However, there is one essential issue that is being ignored.
The slums do not simply consist of sprawling, dirty shacks. They are living, breathing, bustling hubs of activity that have been home to generations upon generations of Mumbaikar. The residents built these settlements from the ground, labouring to make a living in the harsh city environment. If the governments remove the slums, they are choosing to remove years of security, culture, and formed identities. After being resettled into apartment blocks, would the residents really be able to sustain themselves and to keep up with the high living costs?
3 ways to alleviate the wealth gap:
1. Increasing the minimum wage.
A minimum wage increase would lift thousands out of poverty. One major factor that contributes to the economic disparity is income inequality. Currently, a minimum wage is not implemented strongly in India. An enforced minimum wage would make a world of difference for many low-income employees, and would not have an overall negative effect on economic growth.
2. Increase taxes
One way of alleviating this economic inequality would be to increase taxes.
3. Encouraging social responsibility
Another potential way to alleviate the economic disparity would be to encourage businesses and landlords to be socially responsible. For example: reducing rents so as not to push out small, independent businesses. This would directly support the needy, and prevent economic monopolisation.
4. Invest in education
Differences and improvements in early education are essential factors that contribute to lasting economic inequalities over time and across generations. To ensure children a consistent and lasting education, is to ensure equal opportunities.
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