Vol5_No3_urban_indias_informal_economy

Vol5_No3_urban_indias_informal_economy - Shadow Lives Urban...

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Shadow Lives: Urban India’s Informal Economy by Patralekha Chatterjee Take a typical day in the life of the Kapoor family in Delhi, India’s capital city and a teeming megapolis of nearly 12 million people. It is early morning. Reclining on the easy chair in his front verandah, Mr. Kapoor sips his cup of tea. The day’s papers, hand-delivered by the newspaper boy, do not bring good tidings. Mr. Kapoor scans the headlines, glances at the life-style pages and quickly turns to the sports page. The doorbell rings. It is the man who washes the car. Every month, for a fee of US$ 3. Mr. Kapoor, like other residents in his apartment block can spare himself the drudgery of cleaning his own car. Just as he is leaving for work, the doorbell rings again. It is the sweeperess. She cleans the toilets and picks up the daily trash of the Kapoor family for a monthly fee of US$ 2. The Kapoors have two maids. A part-time domestic help sweeps and swabs the floor, and washes the dishes. Then there is the live-in cook cum girl-Friday. The vegetable vendor who comes to their doorstep every morning saves Mrs. Kapoor a trip to the market. On Sundays, the bell keeps ringing incessantly. A phalanx of odd-job men arrive at the Kapoor household one after the other — something or the other always need mending and you can always spot a plumber or an electrician or a carpenter making his way to the Kapoor household. One man without whom the Kapoor household would grind to a halt is the local scrap dealer. His ‘boys" traverse lanes and by-lanes of Delhi’s neighborhoods scrounging for rubbish — empty bottles, old newspapers, plastic cans, junk metal — just about anything which you or I consider unsightly and would like to throw away. It is the ultimate take-away service. The boys come to the Kapoor household, sort the rubbish, pay a price and cart it away in gunny bags. The man who washes Mr Kapoor’s car, the woman who cleans the dishes in the Kapoor family, the vegetable vendor and the waste-picker are part of the "informal sector" — the economist’s jargon for a vast pool of poorly trained, low wage workers who sometimes work in dangerous environs. Without the intricate web of services provided by these people, families such as the Kapoors would not have their existing comfort level. And yet, the linkage between their lives and the shadow lives of the men and women outside the regulatory framework of the city’s economy is not easily understood and rarely figure in public discussions. The informal economy has won the numbers game in India. As Amitabh Kundu, a professor at Delhi’s Jawaharlal
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This note was uploaded on 11/10/2011 for the course ECON 4310 taught by Professor Staff during the Fall '08 term at Kennesaw.

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Vol5_No3_urban_indias_informal_economy - Shadow Lives Urban...

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