Slums have been an integral part of urban India and have grown alongside urbanisation. They have occupied significant space ever since urban geographical expansion and urban industrial development, especially in the last 50 years of planned development.
Slums are such parts of urban areas that may be unfit for human habitation, either due to the structures therein are old, dilapidated, grossly congested, or where it is impossible to preserve sanitation, drainage, water supply because the sites by themselves are unhygienic and unhealthy. Slums can be notified and non-notified by city corporations, municipalities and development authorities. Notified ones have an edge over the others for various improvement and development works, due to higher density of population.
Urban India has 48,994 slums, half of them notified and the other half non-notified. The incidence of slums, though widespread in all urban areas, is largely in 10 major Indian states. Maharashtra alone has more than a third (34.74%) of the slums; Odisha has the lowest (3.99%). In between, Andhra Pradesh has 11%, West Bengal 10%, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat 7% each, Delhi 6% and Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh 5% each of the slums in the country. With over 36 million people living in the slums, they account for 17% of the urban population.
One Million Population Cities (OMPCs) have been the major centres of slums in all measures, due to better economic conditions — employment opportunities, income, better infrastructure, etc. However, the percentage of slum-dwellers in the OMPCs has fallen – to 24.10% from 28.69% — due to the subsuming process.
Out of the 27 OMPCs, Greater Bombay alone has a lion’s share, with 6.48 million people (36.61% of its population) living in the slums, followed by Delhi (10.45%) and Kolkata (8.42%). Other cities with high slum populations include Faridabad (46.5%), Meerut (44.1%), Nagpur (35.9%) and Thane (27.8%).
Amusingly, the 65th Round of National Sample Survey Report (2010) came out with a finding that slums had dwindled from 51,688 in 2002 to 48,994 in 2009 — a net reduction of 2,694 notified and un-notified slums. The notified slums had dropped to 24,781 from 26,166 and un-notified to 24,213 from 25,522. The possible dwindling of slums cannot be ruled out wholly, due to the concerted efforts of public interventions supported by investments to improve the conditions.
Further, strategies like ‘Shelter for All’, enshrined in the National Housing and Habitat Policy of the Government of India and ‘Slum-less Cities’ have got major impetus, especially under the Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme since 2005.
The draft National Slum Policy (2004) pushed achieving slum-free cities with rejuvenated strategies, empowerment and entitlement for the slum-dwellers.
Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) has brought greater visibility in the provision of housing and the basic amenities for slum-dwellers and aimed at achieving inclusive urban development.
But, at the same time, there are a number of apprehensions about accepting the fall in the number of slums, given the space that slums continue to occupy, the large populations they host, the environmental degradation, administrative inefficiencies, the poor living conditions of the dwellers, etc. Above all, ‘pull’ factors like widespread employment opportunities, better access to socio-economic facilities and increased income have attracted the rural workforce to urban areas which, common sense suggests, should have caused an increase, not a decrease, in the number of urban slums in recent years.
The presence of slums in any form and size is a detrimental factor to achieve an orderly urban society. Such societies cannot be considered as being inclusive and homogenous, given the prevalence of glaring development disparity, deprivation of basic needs, lack of access to basic amenities and deteriorating environmental conditions, especially in the slums. Cities will continue to inflict fundamental problems on slum-dwellers if there is any more delay in introducing the necessary corrective interventions.
Eradicate housing insecurity
An orderly urban society can be achieved by developing all the existing slums and subsuming them within the urban life of India. While strategising such transformation, eradication of housing insecurity should be prioritised, both by scaling up housing development efforts and by redeveloping the sub-standard and dilapidated housing stock.
Development of housing amenities like electricity, sanitation, etc., is the need of the hour, if at all the existing disparity between the slum and non-slum dwellers is to be erased. On issues like providing household electricity and connectivity to sewerage facilities, slum development administration is yet to make a significant headway. The other challenges of the urban slums are water-logging and solid waste management, which have environmental implications and need to be tackled with a coordinated approach with the residents, communities and non-governmental organisations.
In a nut shell, a development strategy providing integrated housing and amenities for the slum-dwellers would go a long way. The development of motorable roads in the slums would pave way for increasing access to interface between the slum-dwellers and non-slum urban population. The government, besides playing a critical role in building a slum-free urban India, needs to evolve a strong corporate social responsibility strategy for the development and mainstreaming of urban slums. It is not unreasonable to suggest that if only the strategies, approaches and public commitments are sustainable, with well-knit coordination, several thousands of urban slums can be subsumed within the core life of urban India in the years to come and an inclusive urban society can be achieved.
(The writer is a former faculty member of the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru)