Voyage of Livelihood Development ‘A tale of two slums’

Shared by Amitabh Bhushan and Abhishek Jha, PRIA

It has been widely accepted fact that cities play a pivotal role in the economic growth of a country and consequently they are considered as the engines of economic growth which steers a country towards economic prosperity. However, at this point of time we need to spare a thought about what propels the engine called city – infrastructure, populace or the activities which take place within the city. Further, if we analyse the process of urbanisation there are multiple aspects viz. economics, demographics, politics, culture, technology, combined social implications etc. which shapes an urban space and these comprises a role for everyone living in the urban society and the urban poor are no exceptions  as human race has always strived to be in proximity to profit.

As part of PRIA’s Strengthening Civil Society Voices on Urban Poverty project, community meetings were organised in two of the below mentioned slums  as a part of strategy to facilitate formation of Slum Improvement Committee as focal committee to spearhead the campaign for access to government schemes and strengthening  community organisation on related issues.  .

This is a tale of two slums situated in the heart of Patna the first is China kothi (the history behind its interesting name is unknown to the denizens, located in ward no. 21) and the other is called Ketari (Sugarcane) Mohalla (as its name connotes populace residing in this slum are engaged in sugarcane business located in ward no.21). These slums have been existent in the city since four decades, which signifies a period when Patna was still in a nascent stage of being called the capital city of Bihar in terms of population size or population density, economic activities, social overheads, quality of life etc. The places where these slums exist at present used to be unproductive (commercially) covered with thorny bushes (they call this place a village). The slum dwellers made these slums liveable with all their hardships and at the same time it was considered as appropriate location being less affected by floods by being an high land (people shifted to this location after the Patna flood of 1975, which was so severe, that people say the city virtually turned into an island for a fortnight and it was literally a blackout everywhere.)

From that point of time the slum dwellers living in these slums have been shaping and re-shaping their livelihood strategies, without which they would not have had survived in the city as Darwin’s theory “ survival of the fittest “ stands true in every aspect of life and they are no different. A brief mapping of their livelihood strategies helped us realise that the economic concept of “economies of scale” and switch to modern and cost effective  techniques coupled with coping changing trends of the enterprise are key attributes for growth and expansion.


Slum 1 China kothi-

This sum comprises of people belonging to Dom Community (this community has been traditionally involved with the business of bamboo craft in Bihar) but with the elapse of time and rising inflation the traditional business seemed to be less paying and this was the point they had to rethink on continuing the business. Then they learnt the art of making cloth racks, different types of baskets and other utilities from bamboo from different specialized groups.

The strategy of developing new product mix paid rich dividends as items like bamboo cloth rack /shelf was a cheap alternative to steel Almirah/ Racks for students and poverty struck population of the city and new utility mix for rural population living with proximity of Patna city.


Figure 1 People making bamboo racks in China Kothi

According to Ram Sewak one of the entrepreneur working on bamboo craft  cited that through bulk purchase get one bamboo in Rs 70- 80 as raw material and on an average they make 4-5  cloth/book racks from it in a day. On an average each racks fetches Rs 80- 120/ – depending on demand and supply situation giving them a return of Rs 350- 375/- and average profit of Rs 250/day . As more than one member of the family are generally involved in the business so on an average a family earns Rs 400- 500/  day. He reflects that they are fortunate to inherit these traditional skills and are relatively better placed than people living in other slums with majority engaged in unorganised sectors.  He further adds with caution that the product range needs to be magnified regularly to match the changing demands  of the citizens and urges the urgency to foray in the sector of bamboo toys which is currently being met from craftsman from other states as Assam and Bengal. Expanding the product line holds key to harvest the market potential, profitability and balance to demand supply curve.

Despite the above mentioned innovative livelihood strategies followed by the inhabitants of this slum, the issues of poor housing and basic services cannot be undermined. To make their livelihood tactics more sustainable there is a dire need of social security schemes in this slum. Though some dwelling units were provided in this slum back in1976 under the IAY but in a period of 36 years the population of the slum has grown with a rapid pace making the available infrastructure incapable to bear the load be it be for housing, drinking water supply or sanitation.


Figure 2 The entrance to Ketari Mohalla

This slum comprises of people from different castes (from backward castes to Bhramins).  41 out of 58 families currently living in the slum are involved in the business of sugarcane crushing.  ‘Kunwar Singh ‘ a resident in his early 70s recalls that people from different places settled down as the land was barren and unutilized  belonging  partially to Patna Municipal Corporation and Dept. of minor irrigation. Initially for 1-2 years they worked as construction labourers and in other spaces in unorganised sector. Soon they realized that sugarcane crushing and selling of sugarcane Juice had ample demand in the city and potential for up scaling their livelihood and income.

Realising the sustainability and opportunities to make a living from the enterprise majority of the families engaged themselves in the business at one go. This helped them to form a cartel to stabilise the product price on one hand and to negotiate terms and conditions from suppliers of sugarcane through bulk purchase orders (sharing basis). Currently every alternate day one truck load of sugarcane is purchased by the entrepreneurs and divided on the basis of individual demand and supply positions.   With time they have switched over from traditional hand crushing machines to mechanised crushing machines, increasing the crushing capacity by three folds and increased crushing capacities in terms of juice contents. On an average each family earns about 250-300 rupees per day depending on the seasonality and demand supply situation. Micro Finance companies as Bandhan are also providing them with credit for expansion and purchase


Dynamics of Livelihood option of urban poor: comparatives and reflections  

Undoubtedly livelihood remains a critical component for addressing the issues related to urban poverty and various initiatives are being taken by civil society, governments and other agencies for livelihood development and sustenance, but the question remains- Are these initiatives  adequately designed to meet the complexities and challenges of livelihood/ enterprise development as witnessed in both the cases:

  • Identification of livelihood option appropriate to available human and financial resources.
  • Potential for demand growth having scale for feasible up scaling.
  • Time tested and technically sound training components.
  • Forward and backward linkages for pooling of resources, collective purchase to benefit from ‘economies of scale’’ marketing etc.
  • Developing the entrepreneurial capacities and instinct among beneficiaries to look out for new opportunities to cash upon, constant up gradation of skills and diversification of product range to meet change in demand.

Various social security, housing and livelihood development schemes are in place to improve the quality of the urban poor, but among them sustainable livelihood is a critical component as it is the source to survive in an urban space. Without making a dent in the livelihood scenario of the urban poor, eradication of urban poverty will remain a distant dream.


2 thoughts on “Voyage of Livelihood Development ‘A tale of two slums’

  1. Anonymous November 8, 2012 at 5:25 am Reply

    Well explained and clear examples.
    Can you make a case study of these villages for social enterpreneurship?

  2. terraurban November 8, 2012 at 5:31 am Reply

    Absolutely! It would be great to know your introduction too!

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