Dharavi Is Not Just A Slum, It’s A Thriving Hub Of Industry

Hitesh Mahawar
4 min readMay 23, 2018


Earthen pots made by Kumbhar community at Dharavi (Credit: Hitesh Mahawar)

Spread across almost 550 acres of land, and home to around 1 million people (50–60% labourers), Dharavi is one of the largest and oldest informal urban settlements of the world. It has developed over the 150 years from an island on a swampy and unused patch of land, to a much-discussed area at the heart of Mumbai.

Dharavi is a hub for small-scale industries (unorganized sectors such as leather industry, waste recycling industry, etc), and exports goods across the globe with an estimated annual turnover of around $ 1 billion. It has approximately 5,000 business entities, with 15,000 in-house single-room factories for production. Generally, people from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Gujarat come to work in these industries.

According to residents of Dharavi, 60% of Mumbai’s segregated waste comes to Dharavi for processing; indicating the vital role of waste recycling and processing units of Dharavi in maintaining and managing Mumbai’s solid waste management landscape. They are not only managing the waste, but they are making big money out of it and generating employment as well. Dharavi is home to some 30,000 rag pickers — scavengers who find and sort recyclable scraps from the city’s garbage dumps.

Small-Scale Industries/Factories

1) Leather industries:

It is the most prominent industry, with the highest share of turnover among all industries in Dharavi. Large profit margins are involved in these industries, attracting young entrepreneurs. Most of these units make use of animal skin (mainly Sheep, Goat, and Buffalo) collected from slaughter houses for processing into leather. Animal skin is washed in a washing machine (made up of wood) with a large capacity, and then cut into the desired length.

After the cutting process, the leather piece is put into the pressing machine with the desired pattern and design. Semi-finished leather pieces, after pressing, are made into the final products, such as belt, purse, wallet, etc. These products are then exported to foreign brands in very large amounts.

2) Plastic recycling industries:

This industry has three phases in the recycling process. Mixed plastic waste is segregated and sorted on the basis of color and hardness. Segregated and sorted plastic waste is crushed in a crushing machine into plastic chips. Plastic chips are washed for dirt removal and then sun-dried before melting them to make into small plastic tablets or pellets. One recycling unit recycles, on an average, four tons of plastic waste a day.

3) Wax printing:

Wax printing is one of the oldest industries in Dharavi. Approximately 40–50 wax printing units are functional. Hot molten wax is applied to cloth with the help of a wooden block having a desired pattern on the bottom. After solidification of wax, the cloth is colored. After drying, it is washed in hot water to remove wax so that the pattern becomes visible on the cloth. The worker should be skilled enough to work in this industry because wax printing requires a significant level of precision. Workers generally work 10 hours a day and are paid in the range of ₹500–800/day ($ 8–13/day).

4) Aluminium brick making industries:

This industry uses mixed metal waste as its raw material. In the first step, aluminium is separated from the mixed metal waste by using a magnetic separator. Separated scrap solid aluminium is melted in a furnace maintained at 660° centigrade (melting point of aluminium). Then molten aluminium is molded in the form of solid 5 KG bricks which have a market price of ₹5000 ($ 78) each.

5) Pottery making units:

This profession is generally performed by ‘kumbhar‘ community. The peak time for this profession is Diwali. At the time of Diwali, the whole area is covered by the smoke emitted by pottery kilns. This business is run by individual households. Each individual house has its own pottery kiln and a shop facing the road ahead of the house.


One can conclude, from this visit, that the Dharavi slum is far different from the general perception of the slum. It is a slum which has 5,000 different businesses, as well as industries that export the products of these businesses. It is a slum that has an annual turnover of more than $ 1 billion. The visit showed me what we can do with the waste of recycling industries and unused waste from dumps. I left with the thought that it’s not just a slum — it’s a slum with immense opportunities that lie within.



Hitesh Mahawar

University of Cambridge, MPhil ESD'23 | MGOS Scholar | IIT Bombay Alumnus | Creator, Be a Bridge for Change - BBC | LIn: www.linkedin.com/in/hiteshkumarmahawar/