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Informal Economy in Our Cities: How can our cities serve those who built them, better?

Informal Economy in Our Cities: How can our cities serve those who built them, better?

We live in a rapidly urbanizing world. India’s urban population, currently at about 480 million, is expected to double by 2050. Most of the infrastructure needed to meet the demands of a rising population is yet to be built.

Urban India largely depends on the rural workforce that comes to the city in search of livelihood to help build the expanding cities. India’s informal workforce remains largely undocumented, and thus invisible to the administration. The situation exploded when the workers left the cities in the wake of the COVID-19 induced national lockdown. The city robbed them of their dignity and self-respect and left them no option but to travel back to their native places, often on foot.

The reality of the informal labour force in India is not monolithic; it is inherently complex and demands the attention of the policymakers.

In Independent India, trade unions dominated the city-based manufacturing units in places like Mumbai, Kolkata, etc. But as rents increased, and strikes crippled production, most of these industrial units moved to the outskirts, thus nullifying the relevance of these trade unions. Now, unions have been replaced by a complex network of intermediaries and contractors who bring the workforce into the city. Some workers leave their families behind and aspire to return to their native place once they amass the needed capital, while many relocate their entire families to the city as the rural realities of caste and gender discrimination are harsh to withstand. But once they choose to be in the city, they are left on their own devices.

This working populace is as much a part of the city’s fabric, as any of us. WRI India’s webinar on Informal economy in Our Cities seeks to figure out the ways in which the cities could serve the informal sector workers better. We look forward to the panel to help us explore - how can our cities, striving to be smart, treat the informal workforce with dignity and respect?

Informal Economy in Our Cities will be moderated by Madhav Pai (Director -Sustainable Cities, WRI India). Our panel of eminent speakers will focus on the following thematic areas:

  • Housing for informal sector workers in urban India and the future of slums.
  • The role of local governing bodies in managing the informal sector workforce.
  • The Indian government’s vision for the informal sector workers and going forward how systems can be fortified to prevent such calamities.


  • Sheela Patel, (Director, SPARC), Chair Shack/Slum Dwellers International
  • Shilpa Kumar, Partner, Omidiyar Network India, Ex MD & CEO ICICI Securities. Omidyar Network India supports several young enterprises and research organisations to improve urban governance
  • Shailaja Chandra, (ex-IAS)
  • Shashank Rao, General Secretary, BEST Workers’ Union
  • Amitabh Kundu, Senior Fellow WRI India, Former Professor and Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University

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