Cash-starved slum dwellers and informal traders fear long-term hit to their income

By Roli Srivastava

Samita Chavan used to wake up at 3am every day to the sound of her neighbour’s wet grinder in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum. Now, she is adjusting to a rare silence after three months of lockdown that saw tens of thousands of migrant workers leave the city.

Dharavi, believed to be Asia’s largest slum, has been hailed as a success story in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, bringing cases from a daily average of 100 in April to about 10 in July, say city officials, thanks to a strict lockdown.

But cash-starved slum dwellers and informal traders fear a long-term hit to their income, as about 150,000 migrant workers have left Dharavi – according to official estimates – and small businesses face permanent closure.

“Many factories have exhausted their capital and there is still no idea when things will start improving … the small factories of Dharavi do not have the capacity to suffer this scale of loss,” said Babu Khan, president of the Dharavi Garment Association.

“These factories can’t afford to stop work even for a week. It has been about four months now. About 80% of the factories here are still shut,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Particularly at risk are informal traders – which according to Khan make up 70% of businesses in Dharavi – as they are not eligible for bank loans or government schemes to boost lockdown-hit industries.

Business owner Rais, 60, who makes brass belt buckles, said that “silence means everything is shut. I have closed my business for good … I could not sustain it.”

“I don’t know what I will do next… I have never seen Dharavi like this before,” said Rais, who goes by one name.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

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