The sprawling slum of Dharavi–among the largest in Asia–is also an economic powerhouse. Thousands of tiny garment and leather factories operate from the thicket of shanties. Most are located atop lofts, connected to the ground by a rickety staircase.There are at least 5,000 leather units and 4,000 garment factories, according to local manufacturers. In the last month, 80-90% of these cottage industries have shut down, they estimate.
Migrants from UP, Bihar, Bengal and Karnataka live and work here for several months of the year. Clothes from the garment factories are supplied to wholesale markets in Mumbai and other states.The leather units make jackets, bags, wallets and belts.
Many take bulk orders for corporate gifts and even do back-room work for designer brands.
Manufacturers say consumer demand has plummeted.And with the continuing cash crunch, there is no money for transactions or wages. Most of the migrants have no bank accounts and rely entirely on cash payments.
“My factory would make 3,000 garments a day and had a turnover of Rs 1-2 lakh per day. Today it is locked, like 90% of the units,“ says Haji Babbu Khan from Tan-Man Dresses, one of the biggest garment manufacturers in Dharavi. Only two of Haji Khan’s 40 workers remain in the city now. Most workers in the garment trade earn between Rs 8,000 to Rs 15,000 a month, depending on skill and speed.
Abdulais Shaikh from Sana Leather Works, is one of the largest leather manufacturers and exporters in Dharavi, with an annual turnover of Rs 1.5 crore. “Business is down 95%. We have received no orders for corporate gifts in the last month,“ he says. During the winter season, his factories would make 1,000 leather jackets. This season, they are making just 100.
Manufacturers like him are allowed to withdraw Rs 50,000 a week.In reality, his bank only doles out Rs 4,000. Outside his door is a new sign to entice customers: they can pay by Paytm. “I put this up 15 days ago, but no one is in the mood to spend,“ he says.
Why can’t he pay his workers by cheque or electronically? Most of them have no bank account or identity proof. “The government says your mobile phone should be your bank. The workers get scared even if their phone accidentally goes into silent mode. They think it’s spoilt. How will they use it for banking?“ he asks.
Inside one of his factories, a group of three workers from Bihar’s Sheohar district are bent over a leather jacket. Since the note-ban, their earnings have fallen from Rs 500 to Rs 300 per day. None of them has been able to send money home.“The government says the poor are sleeping peacefully. When you are hungry, what can you do but sleep?“ asks Sabir Shaikh, bitterly.