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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 April 2006, 18:20 GMT 19:20 UK
Growth gives hope to India's poor
By Karishma Vaswani
BBC Mumbai business correspondent

India's rapid economic growth has brought benefits for rich and poor alike, especially in its booming financial centre, Mumbai.

On any given night at Mumbai's Cream Centre it is almost impossible to get a table.

Cream Centre
Wealthy Indians have developed a taste for restaurants

Even during the week, the reasonably priced vegetarian restaurant on Mumbai's famous Marine Drive belt is teeming with customers.

Diners throng outside its newly renovated exterior, anxious to get a seat inside.

Some are turned away at the door, or asked to wait at least an hour for a table.

But that wait does little to deter the patient, or the hungry.

Dining here, where a three course meal costs around $15 per family, is an affordable luxury for India's newly rich middle class.

On average, a family dining here could take home more than $1,000 a month.

Growing market

The rapid growth of the Indian economy has arguably benefited this section of society the most.

Richard Mathias, general manager of Blue Foods
Blue Foods boss Mathias wants to expand across India

Currently the economy is expanding at a rate of 8% per year, and an average of 6% growth over the last few years has led to higher salaries for many of India's young professionals.

The surge in spending power for India's middle class has prompted the company that runs Cream Centre to expand across India.

Already, Blue Foods runs 50 outlets across the country, feeding affordable quality food to 25,000 people per day, just five years after it started opening restaurants in response to the growing spending power.

"The last decade has seen tremendous growth in the Indian economy," says Richard Mathias, general manager of Blue Foods.

"That's led to an explosion in the lifestyle and restaurant business.

"The new middle income group in India is now more globally aware. It is mainly thanks to the growth in their salaries that we've seen a need for expansion in our restaurant business across the country."

Dire poverty

But just a few kilometres away from the happily satiated families and the hustle and bustle of Marine Drive and Cream Centre lies Dharavi, Asia's largest slum.

Dharavi, Asia's largest slum
Millions live in poverty in Dharavai, Asia's largest slum

Sandwiched in between two of Mumbai's main railway stations, it is a glaring reminder that growth has yet to reach all corners of India.

Over one million people live in the Dharavi slum, which covers about 1.75 square kilometres of swampy, muddy land.

The oldest hutment was built here about a hundred years ago.

And still the residents of Dharavi live in cramped housing with little or no sanitation.

A shack at Dharavi can cost about $10,000, and more than 10 people might live in one at any given time.

Dharavi has sprouted in the centre of Mumbai mainly because of a lack of affordable housing for the thousands who move here from around the country, in search of the great Mumbai Dream.

Unemployment is rampant in the North Eastern belt of India, so many flee to live in slums in Mumbai and earn a living rather than starve on peasant farms at home.

Informal economy

But even here at Dharavi there are signs that the effects of growth are starting to trickle down.

It has become a production hub for handmade goods like clay pots and garments.

The business provides a livelihood for the millions that live here.

Pots made in Dharavi, Asia's largest slum
Pots made in Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, bring money to the poor

That trade is catching the attention of many.

Mumbai tour operator Reality Tours and Travel takes curious tourists around Dharavi to highlight the industry there.

Set up by an Englishman and an Indian, the idea for a slum tour in Mumbai came from the famous Brazil tours.

But they insists the tour is not there showcase Dharavi's poverty.

Instead they want to showcase the growth that industry and production has brought to Dharavi.

"Not many people know this, but there's a million dollar production industry in Dharavi," says Reality Tours and Travel tour guide Azania Thomas.

"Much of it is of course part of the informal economy of India, the parallel economy as we like to call it.

"That's what we want to highlight on our slum tours. That this is the other side of Mumbai, away from the glitzy restaurants, Marine Drive and the Gateway of India: even in slums like Dharavi, there is industry."

With much of the profits going to the poor, the company is putting its money where its mouth is.

"Eighty per cent of the profits from the tours goes straight back into a charity, which runs nursery schools for under-privileged children in slums like Dharavi," says Mr Thomas.

Rapid growth

Despite such signs of industry and progress, Dharavi's residents are still nowhere near able to pronounce themselves part of India's growing middle class.

Like many Indians, they live in desperate conditions.

A third of India's one billion strong population still lives below the poverty line.

But the economy has been growing strongly in recent years.

That has helped more people lift themselves out of poverty than at any other time in India's history, and the government here is optimistic about the future.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India's economic growth target could soon be raised to 10%.

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