September 3, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Darryl D'Monte

'Indian industrialists are very short-sighted'
Once the largest source of employment in the city, Mumbai's textile mills are reminders of their glorious past. In the past two decades mill after mill has died a slow death and scores of workers reduced to penury.

It is this decline that Darryl D'Monte, former resident editor of The Times of India and The Indian Express, tries to explain in his new book, Ripping The Fabric: The Decline of Mumbai and its mills. He spoke to Chief Correspondent Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai.

Why did you choose this subject for your book?

All these textile mills which are now closed occupy 600 acres of land in the heart of Bombay. The future of Bombay depends on the development of this land. I thought it would be interesting to do a book on this subject.

I think this allows us to decide the future of Bombay because nowhere in the city do you have 600 acres of land geographically in one place. I feel this land is keeping real estate prices down.

What aspects are you projecting in this book?

The story is about the liberalisation of 1991. Till then land was not allowed to be sold. After 1991, the government changed developmental rules. They allowed one third of the mill land to be given to the municipality. Before that they thought it was a huge source of employment in the city and so you could not afford to jeopardise that employment. But after 1991, they allowed one third of land to be surrendered to the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation), one third to MHADA (Maharashtra Housing and Areas Development Authority), one third -- the owner could sell and redevelop. After 1991, they agreed to sell it under this formula.

Why have you titled the book Ripping The Fabric: The Decline of Mumbai and its mills? What is the link between Mumbai and its mills?

Mumbai was an industrial center and the main employer was the textile mills. Now the mills have declined. Not only mills but also all manufacturing, multinational and industrial units have closed down in the eastern and western suburbs of Mumbai. Even Glaxo is shifting from Worli (southcentral Mumbai). So I think there is a decline of the city.

Isn't it true that the entertainment, finance and service sectors in the city are growing? How can you say there is a decline?

I don't believe these new jobs can employ those who have been rendered unemployed. Take the media itself, there may be more media outfits but there were more media persons earlier. If you go to a bank, you cannot meet a teller anymore. Everything is computerised. In my book I have pointed out that there are fewer and fewer jobs now. We now have jobless growth. While few people are paid well the bulk has no job security.

But that is the system all over the world. Mumbai is following the same trend.

There are many systems all over the world. Children are being exploited. Do we support that? No. As an independent analyst, we should see the implications. In the West too they don't like these kind of things. If you see Nike, they are producing in Asia which is resulting in job cuts for Americans. So, who is gaining? Only these big corporations. Corporations don't owe any allegiance to any country and this is the face of globalisation.

But profit is the ultimate motive in a business.

Sure. Enron's motive was profit, but where did it leave us? I am not saying you should keep inefficient people. There are mill workers who want to work but they have been rendered unemployed. I think employment is the central issue.

What is the reason for the closure of these mills?

Over past years, profits from mills was siphoned off by the owners. At the same time, mills were not modernised. Now owners say they cannot modernise. Indian industrialists are very short-sighted. They have a trader mentality.

But the Reliance textile group grew by leaps and bounds.

Correct, because Reliance had foresight. I don't respect much what Reliance has done but it invests in the business. The other industrialists did not invest. They siphoned off the money to other businesses like real estates.

Isn't Dr Datta Samant, the labour leader who led the 1982 textile strike, to be blamed for the closure of the mills?

There is a whole chapter on Dr Samant in the book. Dr Samant was from the engineering industry and he did not want to lead the textile strike but the workers gheraoed [surrounded] his house and forced him to call for a strike. Now you can say he made a tactical mistake by joining it and then by not ending it. But we have to remember that he was from a different industry and joined the strike reluctantly. I have reproduced all the editorials of The Indian Express and The Times of India published in those days. One lakh people marched at his funeral. Workers are not fools to do so. They respected him. But I certainly feel he made a tactical mistake by not ending the strike.

You also mention that the Mumbai riots of 1992-1993 were related to the closure of the mills.

I have quoted Jan Breman, a former scholar of south Gujarat. The mills of Ahmedabad were more important than the mills of Mumbai because it was a major industry. When the mills closed, the anger was against Dalits or Muslims. Breman shows that in his book.

One major reason for the 1992-1993 riots was the closure of mills because the work force was down from 250,000 to 100,000. Unemployed people tend to take out their anger out on other people, then the target is often Muslims.

But after the Gujarat riots of February-March, nothing happened in Mumbai.

There is no connection between the two because nothing happened in Gujarat in 1992-1993. Now in Mumbai, the gun powder is ready and somebody has to light the match.

Last year you wrote a cover story in Outlook, titled 'Bombay Dying.' Why do you think the city is dying?

I did not give that title. I said dying but they said dead. Sixty percent of the population of Mumbai is in the informal sector and they are working longer hours without any security. Now some people say this is good because more people are getting employed than earlier. But this is only survival, and not living. You can earn in Mumbai by picking rags. If you earn Rs 80 per day, people will say Mumbai is a good place. But what kind of work is that? It is completely degrading. You can say s/he is not starving, but this is sheer survival.

But every individual has to be productive in society.

He has to be. But it is not his fault. It is the fault of the planners and industrialists. They have to create a good working atmosphere. I have said in my book that you cannot re-train these mill workers because they are above 40 now. But you can train their children in television, film production, video. You can create some jobs for these mill workers' children.

Is there any particular reason you are attached to this subject?

What made Mumbai was the ports and the mills. I deal with one chapter about ports, but that is 1,800 acres, three times that of the mill area that can also be potentially reused. But if you allow market forces to intervene, five star hotels will spring up. You know the Mukesh mill area of Colaba (south Mumbai), it is being made into a five star hotel. They have paid each worker Rs 6.5 lakhs because they want to build a hotel facing the sea. Is this the city you want? Where will other people go who want work? It will be a very small percentage of people who will benefit from such moves.

Make no mistake, people who are in higher posts will get paid highly and other people will start shrinking. Sooner or later, people will burst out against the system.

Don't you believe that trickle down effect of money is the reality today?

What trickle down? There is no trickle down effect. It is only trickle up. The rich are getting richer. You read the United Nations Human Development report, the disparities have increased globally.

Isn't it true that if a rich man does not invest in new projects jobs won't be created?

Of course, it won't.

Why not give them a chance to invest to create new jobs?

These people should invest. But they have no foresight to invest. These mill owners are behaving like real estate banias [traders].

Design: Dominic Xavier

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