Skip to main content

Climate change, Agrarian distress, and the role of digital labour markets: evidence from Bengaluru, Karnataka


In this article, we explore the use of the digital labour market set up by mobility platforms in Bengaluru, Karnataka, as a mechanism to cope with climate change-induced livelihood transition. Climatic hot spots within regions like the southern Indian state of Karnataka have caused a large volume of livelihood transition along the rural–urban continuum (Revi in Environ Urban 20(1):207–229, 2008. Bengaluru is Karnataka’s primate city, thus absorbing agrarians pushed out of unprofitable agriculture into its ever-growing informal service sector (Singh et al. in Clim Risk Manag 21(June):52–68, 2018. Climate-induced migration into urban centres creates intersecting forms of differential vulnerability. This vulnerability is structured by social discrimination embedded in informal economies, performed through respect, dignity, and humiliation in work encounters in relational economies (Simone in Public Cult 16(3):407–429, 2004). Mobility platforms like Uber and Ola cabs have added to work opportunities within Bengaluru’s service sector by creating an alternative work opportunity—the digital labour market for taxi driving. The digital labour market set up by the mobility platforms offers migrants an alternative labour market to plug into without reliance on relational economies or incurring social debt. We find that the digital labour ecosystem attracts climate change-impacted migrants by offsetting ‘access to work opportunities’ in three key ways: (a) overcoming relational voids, (b) substituting network costs and circumventing social debts, (c) supplementing precarious agricultural work. This article uses evidence from qualitative data collected from in-depth semi-structured interviews with 113 Uber and Ola cab drivers in Bengaluru between 2015 and 2018 to explore the presence of the digital labour market as short-term adaptive strategy to create resilience against climate change-induced livelihood transitions into complex urban informal labour markets.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

(Source: Pai 2016)


  1. There are variations to the way work is measured on mobility platforms such as through long-distance, or multi-hour package deals, but the model itself is predicated on atomizing ‘work’ into units measurable by computational systems.


Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aditi Surie.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Surie, A., Sharma, L.V. Climate change, Agrarian distress, and the role of digital labour markets: evidence from Bengaluru, Karnataka. Decision 46, 127–138 (2019).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Digital labour market
  • Climate change
  • Adaptation
  • Gig economy
  • Agrarian distress
  • Bengaluru
  • App-based service providers