Jugaad (India)

From Global Informality Project
Jump to: navigation, search
India map.png
Location: India
Author: Shahana Chattaraj
Affiliation: Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

Original text: Shahana Chattaraj, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

Jugaad denotes a way of solving problems by adapting to or getting around constraints, making do and improvising with limited resources. The concept originates in a Hindi word that means ‘cobbled together’ – the term was initially used to describe improvised vehicles common in rural north India. Built from diesel pump engines and old motor vehicle parts fitted onto wooden carts, jugaads are a cheap and useful form of motorised transport. Unregulated, unlicensed and uninsured, they transport people, fertilizer, farm tools and produce.

In contemporary India, jugaad refers to various sorts of improvised machines and makeshift structures, quick-fix solutions or workarounds. It might also refer to an object or technology used in a new or unintended way. A commonly cited example of jugaad is the ‘missed call’ – a mobile phone call that enables communication without cost to either sender or receiver. A missed call might be used to signal arrival at a designated meeting place or convey any other pre-decided message. Initially driven by expensive call rates when mobile phones were introduced, missed calls remain a feature of everyday life in India, saving money as well as time.

In a broader sense, jugaad implies devising fixes and strategies that are not on the books, intended to address practical problems and cope with a lack of resources, burdensome rules and regulations, inadequate infrastructure and unreliable services. In urban India, residents of squatter settlements use jugaad to gain access to municipal water connections, illegally affixing small-bore pipes and pumps to water mains, typically with the collusion of political representatives and street-level municipal workers. ‘Share taxis’ and ‘share auto-rickshaws’, which run short, fixed routes, serve as a jugaad form of intermediate public transport in Indian cities, but operate outside of the regulatory system.

Jugaad has in recent years gained currency in the fields of management and engineering, spurred by popular business books such as Jugaad Innovation (Rajdou, Prabhu and Ahuja 2012[1]). The idea of jugaad has been co-opted and reframed by Indian business leaders and management thinkers as an indigenous system of adaptation and innovation that is well-suited to what the CEO of Hindustan Unilever has described as ‘an increasingly resource-starved, volatile and unpredictable world’ (http://jugaadinnovation.com/supporters/). Jugaad today finds regular mention in the international business press, as a characteristic of India’s major firms as well as small entrepreneurs and informal businesses. Jugaad in this sense implies a flexible and adaptive mode of practice, a ‘mindset’ geared towards improvising and solving problems as they come up. The Tata nano car, launched in 2009 by one of India’s largest industrial conglomerates, was extolled as an example of jugaad innovation. Priced at roughly $2000 at its launch, making it the cheapest car in the world, the nano was a safe, no-frills, ‘frugally-engineered’ car intended to make car ownership accessible to India’s newly-emerging middle-class (Rajagopal, 2011[2]; Rajdou et al 2012[3]). The nano, a small but conventional-looking 4-door vehicle, used unconventional and innovative methods in its design and manufacturing process in order to keep costs low, such as gluing some parts together with high-performance glue (Rajagopal, 2011[4]).

The missed call is a classic example of an informal jugaad practice that has been put to commercial use. Indian firms, from banks to vegetable vendors, use ‘missed calls’ to communicate with customers and provide information about services (Pandey and Verma-Ambwani 2015[5]). For example, a local newspaper lets customers renew subscriptions with a missed call, and a mass political campaign against corruption invited citizens to register support through missed calls.

The positive and celebratory spin that jugaad has acquired reflect India’s new self-confidence as an emerging economic power, buoyed by the global success of some homegrown firms. Much of the literature on jugaad comes from the field of management, and consists of case studies of innovative low-cost products, technological adaptations and flexible, responsive management strategies (Rajdou et al 2012[6]). There has been less research on jugaad in rural and informal settings, the environment within which jugaad vehicles and other grass-roots innovations and adaptations emerged and scaled-up. A study on jugaad among the so-called ‘bottom of the pyramid’ (a management term that refers to India’s poorest but largest consumer class) argues that it is a survival strategy adopted by households with meager resources (Singh, Gupta and Mondal 2013[7]). In small-town North India, the idea of jugaad has gained traction amongst unemployed youth, who work as brokers and fixers and see themselves as small entrepreneurs (Jeffrey and Young 2014[8]). Jugaad Urbanism: Resourceful Strategies for Indian Cities, a well-received exhibition at the Center for Architecture in New York, celebrated the resourceful and efficient ways in which slum residents, small-scale and informal businesses addressed daily problems of housing, livelihood and basic services. The exhibit framed jugaad as more than just ‘making do,’ a model of doing more with less that architects, engineers and designers could emulate. Anthropologist Vyjayanthi Rao, in her write-up for Jugaad Urbanism (Center for Architecture 2011[9]) uses the term to describe the ‘messiness’ of Indian cities, ‘but not based on notions of failure and chaos….jugaad incorporates an assembly of different notions of urbanism, far more variegated that the western models.’ The flipside of jugaad – the constraints of unreliable infrastructure and services, weak institutions and an unwieldy regulatory and bureaucratic system – are underplayed in these accounts.

Jugaad is a pervasive feature of Indian urban space. Slums and squatter settlements, bazaars and informal industrial districts are continuously improvised and adapted, to absorb new migrants or new sorts of economic activity (many Indian slums function as informal industrial districts). Their existence circumvents official plans, laws and regulations and involves a continual negotiation with state authorities just to avoid demolition, let alone gain a measure of public services and resources. Slum structures grow in a jugaad fashion, from makeshift shelters to more permanent structures, adding extensions, mezzanines and upper storeys – not according to pre-existing plans or drawings, but based on functional needs and available resources. Slums may be seen as jugaad solution to the housing and livelihood needs of the urban poor that formal institutions – both state and private – have failed to meet. But they also help ensure that India’s growing cities have a readily available, ‘flexible’ low-wage labour supply, under the radar of state regulation.

Jugaad patterns of urban growth are not restricted to slums. As India goes through a period of rapid urban transformation and growth, the capacity of formal institutions to plan and manage urban development is stretched. In the absence of effective municipal governments, the ad hoc conversion of rural land to urban use, unregulated urban development, illegal construction, encroachment on public land and the self-provision or informal provision of services are widespread.

The state, in most accounts, is considered the ‘enemy’ of jugaad practices. However, this author’s research in Mumbai finds that jugaad practices also characterise the working of local state. ‘Jugaad governance’ is engendered by the contradictions between the state’s legal and regulatory regime – which is that of a centralised, high-modernist bureaucracy, little changed from its colonial roots – and the need to govern a largely informal city. The state lacks the resources and institutional capacity to eliminate or formalise informal activities, but must instead accommodate and control them, to ensure economic activity and maintain social order. In Mumbai, the state governs the informal city not through the organisational tools of a centralised bureaucratic state, but through decentralised, flexible, improvised and on occasion extra-legal practices of governance (Chattaraj 2015[10]).

Jugaad governance enables the state to service slum areas, informally regulate and tax informal economic activities, incorporate and ‘regularise’ unplanned urban development. Mumbai’s municipal engineers, in Bjorkman's (2014) account of the city’s water supply infrastructure, are not merely corrupt individuals providing illegal services for a fee, but state actors involved in a complex, extra-legal process of negotiation, adjusting and tweaking in order to meet service demands in a city that grows in little accord with statutory plans. Senior officials may participate in corruption, but even upstanding bureaucrats implicitly tolerate jugaad practices. They overlook infractions, apply discretionary interpretations of rules and regulations, identify loopholes or delay taking actions that disrupt informal economic activities or impose heavy financial, social or political costs on the state (Chattaraj 2012[11]).

Jeffrey and Young (2014[12]) argue that jugaad is used as a euphemism for corruption but with a virtuous tinge, necessary to get by and improve ones circumstances. The concept thus serves to legitimise corruption. Some Indian business leaders chafe at the term, recalling its association with the shoddy and make-do jugaad vehicles, and an unsavory cutting of corners (Sharma 2015[13]). Critics argue that jugaad is often a product of necessity rather than a choice, and leads to less than ideal solutions. For example, jugaad strategies enable residents of illegal slums to gain access to water ‘one way or another’, but might reduce their incentive to organise collectively to demand services. They allow the state to renege on its obligations, but make it difficult to plan and manage an adequate water supply system. The implications of jugaad for India’s politics, economy and society are empirical questions that need further research.

In popular accounts of the practice, jugaad is considered a uniquely Indian attribute, born out of the ingenuity of India’s ordinary people in the face of scarce resources and a sclerotic state. Jugaad has several elements in common with the Brazilian concept of Jeitinho, and system D or debrouillard in West Africa. It is sometimes mentioned as analogous to Guanxi in China, but the element of reciprocal social relationships is not central to the idea of jugaad. Comparative research will be useful to tease out similarities and differences between these practices, and to develop useful, empirically-grounded social-scientific concepts.


  1. Radjou, N., Prabhu, J., & Ahuja, S. 2012. Jugaad Innovation: Think frugal, be flexible, generate breakthrough growth. John Wiley & Sons.
  2. Rajagopal, Avinash (2011). The Little Car Deconstructed. Metropolis Magazine, March 2011http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/March-2011/The-Little-Car-Deconstructed/
  3. Radjou, N., Prabhu, J., & Ahuja, S. 2012. Jugaad Innovation: Think frugal, be flexible, generate breakthrough growth. John Wiley & Sons.
  4. Rajagopal, Avinash (2011). The Little Car Deconstructed. Metropolis Magazine, March 2011http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/March-2011/The-Little-Car-Deconstructed/
  5. Pandey, Navadha and Meenakshi Verma Ambvani. 2015. The Business of Missed Calls. Hindu Business Line. 18 February 2015, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/the-business-of-missed-calls/article6909660.ece
  6. Radjou, N., Prabhu, J., & Ahuja, S. 2012. Jugaad Innovation: Think frugal, be flexible, generate breakthrough growth. John Wiley & Sons.
  7. Singh, R., Gupta, V., & Mondal, A. 2012. Jugaad—From ‘Making Do’and ‘Quick Fix’to an innovative, sustainable and low-cost survival strategy at the bottom of the pyramid. International Journal of Rural Management, 8(1-2), 87-105.
  8. Jeffrey, C., & Young, S. 2014. Jugād: Youth and Enterprise in India. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 104(1), 182-195.
  9. Center for Architecture, New York. 2011. Jugaad Urbanism: Resourceful Strategies for Indian Cities, Feb 10 – 11 May 2011, http://cfa.aiany.org/index.php?section=upcoming&expid=136
  10. Chattaraj, Shahana. 2012. Governing Informality: Jugaad Governance in Mumbai. Blavatnik School Working Paper Series
  11. Chattaraj, Shahana. 2012. Governing Informality: Jugaad Governance in Mumbai. Blavatnik School Working Paper Series
  12. Jeffrey, C., & Young, S. 2014. Jugād: Youth and Enterprise in India. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 104(1), 182-195.
  13. Sharma, Mihir. 2015. The Curse of Jugaad. Business Standard, January 17, 2015. http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/the-curse-of-jugaad-115011601197_1.html