Informal Cities

The Sengupta Committee Report released in 2011 estimates that around 92% of the total workforce in the country is part of the “informal sector”. This “informal sector” is actually extremely diverse. It consists everything from self-employed workers to unregistered SMEs to the black market and several other varieties in between. This informality of commerce and labour contracts has gained crucial importance in the study of cities particularly in the developing countries of the world. Its relevance, however, is not restricted to urban studies. As the Sengupta committee itself points out, there is a massive vacuum of social security given the sheer magnitude of the informal sector. Along with social security, understanding the informal sector is also of vital importance to planning and policy discourses. In the absence of information about this sector, and given its ambiguous legal standing, this sector is mostly overlooked. The violence of this oversight is brought into sharp relief by that remarkable figure, 92%. Alongside this informal sector of the economy there is also widespread informality in the administration of cities. The functioning of large parts of the city, not just slums, but often even middle-class areas takes place through technically “illegal” arrangements between the administration and the citizens. This roundtable brings together scholars who have studied and stressed on the informality of cities throughout their careers. The idea is to explore various lenses which make this informality visible, in different ways, and what are the things we know about its functioning.