23 Feb 2010

Mumbai Shopping Malls: Evil Capitalism or Social Good?

WORLDwrite are doing an excellent job as usual, their latest WORLDbytes endeavour takes them to India, the first installment is available to watch online entitled Man-made Mumbai. The brilliant Sadhvi Sharma takes the crew around introducing them to the wonderful developments taking place in Mumbai. The sheer ingenuity and energy of Mumbai is astounding, this is where the future is.

In the first episode, Sadhvi goes to a shopping mall and interviews people who all seem to be in favour of shopping malls. This, unsurprisingly, goes against the prevailing western prejudices against shopping malls and 'consumerism', the catch-all phrase used to demonise material affluence. The programme got negative comments making precisely this moralistic critique without attempting to understand the importance of a modern retail network for India and the aspiration of its people. Some people are happy to see Indians living as poor peasants and maintain a romantic view of poverty.

But things are not that simple. Take food supply for instance, which is one of India's biggest problems. The Indian ministry of food estimates that about £12 billion worth of food is wasted annually in India. This wastage happens primarily because of a poor supply chain due to inadequate warehouse facilities and food spoilage due to lack of refrigeration.The fact that the Indian retail market consists predominantly (95%) of small retail outlets exacerbates this problem, meaning that efficiencies through economies of scale cannot be achieved.

Enter the large shopping malls and supermarkets that have grown rapidly in India over the past few years. Through proper investment in the supply chain and refrigeration, those stores have reduced the food wastage through their operations significantly, as well as lowering the price of food because of their efficient operations. Their percentage of the total market is still very small however, and they can only contribute to solving the problems of food shortage by expanding rapidly. What western misanthropes see as the expansion of consumerism is actually very vital for Indian society.

The same goes for all types of commodities, let's not make this a matter of subsistence. I for one don't feel at all like telling Indians that they shouldn't use shopping malls or buy cars, clothes and flat screen TVs. I loved India when I visited it, not because of the picturesque poverty as most westerners do but because of the amazing energy and the effort being made to transform Indian society and improve its material conditions. Shopping malls and large supermarkets have a big role to play in this transformation, and insisting on opposing them means insisting on maintaining the problems that India suffers from. Small traders may fit within a romantic ideal but ultimately they will not be able to overcome the problems of food wastage that India suffers from.

Visit the WORLDbytes website and watch the programmes that do a much better job of understanding such dynamics, and donate some money for the great work they are doing entirely on a voluntary basis.


  1. There are malls and there are malls - the 'mall' as a typology is not necessarily disastrous. It is down to the whether the design has a positive or negative effect on its context - both spatially and economically. There are more and more examples of urban malls that work, that are not bubbbles oblivious to their surrounds.

  2. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.

    Used Cars in Mumbai


Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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