Slum specifics

Jobs for the Poor
May 23, 1997

In a crevice in the fault line of poverty which stretches across central and eastern India, the slum dwellers of Cuttack, in the state of Orissa, wait each morning at the numerous "mulia stands" hoping to be hired for a day's work. Apart from work in the very small protected municipal and private sector, the slum dwellers must find work as casual labourers - as rickshaw cyclists, trolley pullers, cleaners, in construction or in home manufacture. The daily rate of pay is about Rs30 (50p).

Orissa is a poor state, which is getting poorer. Cuttack contains over 100 slum neighbourhoods sheltering some 130,000 slum dwellers. This book, a case study of Cuttack, sought to answer two sets of questions. First, what factors restrict slum dwellers seeking a living and what constraints do potential employers face in widening employment opportunities? Second, what is the relationship between poverty and work and what opportunities are there for employment in Cuttack?

The authors' research consisted of interviews with state and local officials and "informed citizens", a review of the application of the Indian government's poverty alleviation programme, and four surveys, conducted in 1993, of slum households, the mulia hiring stands, micro-enterprises, and major employers of slum dwellers' labour. Nigel Harris, known for his work on the economies of cities in developing countries, directed the project.

The study begins by examining the macro-economic position of Orissa, then focuses on conditions in the slums, the slum micro-enterprises and the character of the casual labour markets. Policy recommendations conclude the study: phrased as an agenda, they address national government, the state and the municipality, and include proposals for a slum improvement project.

As the authors emphasise, the Cuttack slums are heterogeneous and display local idiosyncrasies. Consequently, the research and policy recommendations are highly specific to the city. It is perhaps inevitable that a book of this kind will only be of interest to specialists. But there must be a wealth of ethnographic data available - the slum dwellers' own views of their predicament in particular - which could have transformed this report into a work of interest to a wider audience. It would certainly have made it more readable.

John Mattausch is lecturer in sociology, Royal Holloway College, London.

Jobs for the Poor: A Case Study in Cuttack

Author - Nigel Harris, Colin Rosser and Sunil Kumar
ISBN - 81 7314 024 3
Publisher - Research Press
Price - £30.00
Pages - 190

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