Rahul Ingale, 32, is depressed. Sitting in his shop in Shastri Nagar of Dharavi, Mumbai, Ingale, who deals in the leather market, is facing a huge debt. Carrying forward his family business, he buys leather from Kanpur, Lucknow, Kolkata and Chennai and sells it in Dharavi to a number of processing units. "I am in debt of Rs 75 lakh now. There is no business. Complete shutdown. We can't even pay the rent of our shop," he says.
Earlier, Ingale had engaged eight workers in his shop. Today, there is no one. In effect, eight unskilled youths have lost their jobs, leaving Ingale and his 62-years-old father, Shivaji Ingale, to manages the business. "We were unable to pay the salaries of those boys. So, now my father and I work," he says.
Beef Ban & Leather Goods
The ban on beef has taken a heavy toll on around 300 such shops in Dharavi. The locality was earlier a hub of leather works. But now many shops are either shut or are crawling under debt. "I am in this business for 45 years. I have never seen such a downfall in the market. It's tyranny on people like us. We are left with nothing," says an emotional and angry Shivaji.
Dharavi, one of the most high-density localities in the world, is also a hub of small- scale industries. As per the records of Dharavi Businessmen Welfare Association, there are 1,000 small units in the area – be it plastic recycling, leather, garments, aluminium factories and bakeries.
The leaked report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data has recorded a spike in unemployment in 2017-18. The Union government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has denied the findings of NSSO data. But the reality on ground is entirely different than what the Narendra Modi claims.
The story of the Ingale family is related to beef ban. The current political dispensation at the Centre and Maharashtra banks on the 'cultural politics' of 'beef' and 'meat' to its vote bank. So, one can assume that the Modi Sarkar will ignore the disaster that has hit this industry. But the story of sweet products is no different.
Demonetisation Hit Bakery Units
Parvez Sheikh (37) owns Mumbai's famous bakery, Nagina, located in Dharavi. He had other two bakeries Ibrahima (Kutti Vadi, Dharavi) and Rose (Mahim). Before demonetisation, Nagina had 40 labourers working two shifts, Ibrahima and Rose had 20 each. Sheikh’s main business entailed selling products like paav, bread and rusk in bulk. "Notebandi was such a big shock that money from street vendors stopped completely. Gradually, the business went down. I had to shut down my two bakeries and now Nagina has been given on rent to another person," he says. Asked what happened to the workers, he adds: "I has no choice than to bid them goodbye. Many of them were from Bijnore and Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh and have returned to their native places."
There were 25 such bakeries in Dharavi. But first demonetisation and later the Goods and Services Tax (GST) made them financially vulnerable. "I haven't understood till date why Modiji brought GST? I know many small businesses who had to close down due to indirect effects of GST," says Sheikh.
Plastic Industry Melts
Bakery is comparatively a smaller industry in Dharavi, compared with the much bigger plastic industry. Earlier, the area was also a hub for plastic manufacturing. But now many factories have shifted to the outskirts of Mumbai, especially to Vasai, Nalasopara and Navi Mumbai. Only plastic segregation and washing plus recycling industry is left. But that is also huge, with over 600 smaller units, each employing about four to five workers.
Juber Ahmed is actually a graduate from Allahabad University. But in Dharavi, he does the job of segregating plastic. "I didn't get a job in UP after completing graduation in 2013. So, I shifted here in 2015. Since then, I have been engaged in this work, as there is no job for me in Mumbai also" he says.
Ahmed says two years ago, there was demand for plastic in different forms. "Every 10 to 15 days, we used to segregate one or one and half tonnes of plastic. The broker used to pick it periodically. Now this period has widened. We don't get plastic for two, even three months. Now the ratio of one tonne plastic segregation has slipped from 10 days to three months," he says.
The rate for plastic varies depending on quality, from Rs 7 per kg to Rs 40 per kg. "Now, these rates have also come down. We sell plastic at even Rs 4 kg to Rs 30 kg. This has had a very serious impact on our salaries, too," he adds.
There are around 600 small units engaged in plastic segregation and washing plus recycling in Dharavi. Hariram Tanwar (Dilliwala), General Secretary of the All Plastic Recyclers Association (APRA), says the business is down by 60-70%. "This started after notebandi (demonetisation). That time our business was shut down for almost two months. It has never recovered filly since then," he says.
Guddu Sheikh owns a small plastic washing and recycling unit and has engaged six workers. "I haven't reduced the number of workers. But it's true that salaries are getting delayed. I don't deal in ragpickers. My clients are big electric and electronics companies. They send me plastic from their factories. I crack, wash and recycle and send these to manufacturers. Now my problem is that the big companies are producing less. So, I am getting less plastic. Also manufacturers have lower demand now. We are sandwiched in the plastic business," he says.
Textile Units Fading Away
The most affected industry, be it in jobs or turnover, is textiles. Big companies in somehow surviving the slowdown in the domestic markets but smaller units in Dharavi are not that strong.
Gafar Mansuri (42) was one of the major suppliers of suits in the Dadar, Parel markets. His factory had around 30 workers on two shifts a day. "We used to supply 450 to 550 suits per months. Now the number has reduced to just 100 or 125," he says. Mansuri blamed the decline in business on demand slowdown. "Mandi chal rhi hai bhai. Pehle showrooms se hamare pas 400 suits to aate hi the. Ab showrooms vale hi bolte hai ke uthaav nahi hai," (Earlier, showroom demand was about 400 suits , now they say that there is no demand) he adds.
Mansuri was forced to reduce his workforce from 30 to 10. "What do I do with so many boys? I will have to pay them, no? If my payment gets delayed by 2-3 months, how will I pay them? " he asks. He has asked his two sons, one is in 10th and other is in 8th grade to help in the work. "Bachche padhai ke baad yaha aake chhote mote kam karenge to majdoor ka paisa bachegaa na," (If my children help me after school, it will help me save my labour costs), explains Mansuri.
Mohammad Ejaj Khan, born and brought up in Mumbai, decided to try his luck in the garment business two and a half years ago. "I started the business with six machines. But then came demonetisation. It was not possible for me to reduce the machines. And, now I don't have work for my labourers," he says.
Khan deals in stitching suits, jackets and pants for children. "Earlier Rs 85 was the per coat rate. This has now gone down to Rs 77. A jacket was Rs 22, now it is Rs 17. Pant rate was Rs 40 per piece, which is down to Rs 35," he adds. This, he says, has affected hundreds of jobs in Dharavi alone.
While films like 'Slumdog Millionaire' or 'Kala' have portrayed the immense struggle of people of living in Dharavi before world. Hardship is a synonym for Dharavi. But these hard-working people are crumbling now. That's the gravity of financial disaster they are facing. The Modi Sarkar may contest the NSSO data on unemployment, but it can't run away from the disaster it has brought to thousands of small units in Dharavi.