A slum is typically a heavily populated urban residential area consisting, for the most part, of densely clustered, decrepit housing units in a degraded or inadequate infrastructural situation, mostly occupied by poor people. Urban poverty is unique in India, particularly in the way that certain growth patterns are followed. While the proportion of slums in India has officially declined in recent decades, the numbers continue to add up, fuelling the slums’ persistent existence.
Life is becoming increasingly difficult for those left behind, as cities around the world rapidly expand. The causes of urban poverty in India can be related to the lack of infrastructure in rural areas, forcing the citizens of these regions to pursue jobs in the megacities of India.
Nevertheless, as more and more people make this transition, the space left to accommodate them becomes less and less.
Urban development cannot keep up with the rising numbers of informal settlers, and no one wants to be made responsible for the slums or their inhabitants.
Slums in India: Facts and figures
In 2001, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation’s National Report (India Habitat III), about 23.5 percent of urban households were slum dwellers. Even though the overall number of households residing in slums had risen from 10.5 million in 2001 to 13.75 million in 2011, this figure had fallen to 17 percent by 2011.
Mega-cities are where much of the increase in urban poverty occurs.
Reportedly, Greater Mumbai, Delhi NCR and Kolkata house no less than 42% to 55% of their urban population in slums.
But who are these individuals? Why, amid exponential economic growth, are they so poor? Why this inequality and why the slums?
Around 7,933 cities and towns of varying populations are included in India’s present urban structure and many of these are included in the rapid expansion of urban growth that was recorded over the 2001-2011 decade.
The United Nations predicts that most population growth will be recorded from the metropolitan areas themselves in the future, with 165 million additional individuals projected to live in urban areas by 2030.
These numbers are anything but reassuring, considering the present shortage of affordable housing. Many improvements must be made if the causes of urban poverty and the lives of millions of slum-dwellers are to be changed.
Causes and effects
Lack of opportunities
For much of the working-age population, the first challenge is the shortage of opportunities and skills training. The lack of sufficient investment in quality education and basic services such as sanitation, hygiene, waste management and skills training has had its consequences over the years.
It has contributed to generations of people who are malnourished, uneducated, unaware and unqualified or semi-qualified, who find it hard to find decent-paying jobs, which is a major cause for the development of slums in India.
Since agriculture is barely a lucrative option, finding work in the informal economies of the cities is their only choice. Every day, millions move to the cities to take up informal jobs, such as domestic assistance, driving middle-class vehicles, taxi driving, construction site work, etc. In the already packed urban infrastructure, however, this causes overcrowding.
Lack of affordable housing
The lack of affordable housing leaves these individuals helpless. They settle wherever they can, but an entire group of illegal settlers arises as more people join them.
This further complicates the process of accessing basic facilities such as power, water, sanitation, etc., only those recorded on paper can be served by the authorities and public utilities.
Another big factor in illegal settlements is overcrowding. In each illegal house, there is often only one bathroom for 50 to 100 people, and a lack of knowledge of personal hygiene standards drives families deeper into the waiting arms of disease and infection.
These communities’ low wages mean that standard medical aid is always a far-fetched dream, not to mention unaffordable. Therefore, these settlements are breeding grounds for various pests and diseases on times when it rains or the neighborhood is flooded, and the cycle repeats itself.
Lack of education leading to poor family planning
Improving the demographic transition is also a crucial way to curb India’s fertility rate by addressing the causes of urban poverty in India.
The demographic transformation that different countries are undergoing can be categorized into three categories:
- High rate of birth and high rate of death (mostly for children under 5)
- High birth rate and lower mortality rate (for the same kids)
- Low birth rate and low death rate (there are only 2 living children in most families)
The middle stage is causing the world population to increase, but we can see very clearly that most developed countries appear to have 4-5 children per family and as the world economy improves, the number continues to decrease.
Family planning never occurs until each child is fairly expected to survive.
The latest research and estimates around the world have shown that it is more likely that people living in poverty will have more children. So, in a way, it’s fair to assume that poverty is one of the reasons behind overpopulation in this day and age.
And the reason for this is simple: poor families lack access to education and contraceptives, but most often do not have a pension system (they expect their children to take care of them in their old age) and are uncertain about the survival of their children beyond the age of five.
For a whole range of factors, women already appear to have fewer children in urban environments: from lack of room to greater access to methods of birth control and education for their children. Given the alternative, families around the world have shown that they would choose to have two children they can invest in.
Effect of urbanisation
Urbanization often affects regions on the outskirts of major cities, sometimes helping them as they become more related to municipal life. “These cultures, however, are typically not equipped for the urban lifestyle.
For example, the villagers’ life quickly becomes too costly, they don’t have the skill sets required for higher-paying jobs, so they find themselves forced to survive in the informal economy.
With more options but less potential, urban life’s constraints on the overall quality of life erode.
When many communities get to be known as settlements of informal workers, they begin to be accepted as low-cost living areas, often contributing to overcrowding.
Are government measures actually implemented?
Historically, systemic corruption has played a major role in providing affordable urban housing at a slow pace. Over the past decades, officials have been known to threaten slum dwellers by asking them to pay for missing documents.
By “justifying” delays in housing provision, they have neglected bureaucratic protocols, forcing them to live indefinitely in these unsustainable settlements.
Although the delivery of public services has improved over the past decade, there is a general hopeless feeling that nothing is ever going to change.
Given the current size of the problem, given the weak management record and pace of solving the issue so far, hopelessness will not be an insignificant emotion.
How to resolve the issue of slums in India
Improving rural life
As large numbers cannot be relocated in one go, the government allows illegal residents to stay. Even if they are evicted, they are resettled in transition camps and given vague commitments under government schemes for housing provision, but these seldom materialize.
The transition camps, meanwhile, frequently grow into full-fledged slums themselves, merely relocating the problems rather than addressing them.
Overcoming Urban Poverty
The existing state of rural infrastructure (or lack of it) must be tackled in order to manage large-scale migration from rural to urban areas.
What is also crucial is to provide access to some sort of credit and services for slum-dwellers; otherwise, the causes of urban poverty will continue to wear down for generations to come.
Along with encouraging other income-generating opportunities, India is taking the right step in encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises in rural areas. However, growing investment to meet the demand for more jobs, fair pay, and more career and movement opportunities in the tertiary sector or in the agricultural sector could ease the increasing strain on urban infrastructure services.
The situation could be helped, for example, by instilling research and proper training in agriculture so that it can work efficiently alongside the growth of rural areas.
More spending in social services, both in rural and urban areas, such as health care, education and the growth of skills, may also provide a long-term solution to economic distribution problems.
Better urban planning & the regeneration of slums in India
As India advances ambitiously in line with other rapidly developing cities, it is gradually left behind by informal settlers. Slums were not just born overnight, despite being considered a persistent issue. They are a result of decades of negligence and lack of development planning, even centuries.
Efficient urbanization takes time, but slum life can only change if the living standards of its inhabitants are upgraded or enhanced to a basic level. That’s why rehabilitating and rebuilding slums should be one of our main initiatives in India: building healthy and decent homes for the millions of socially excluded families in India’s major cities.
The government should ensure that these families have access to clean water, electricity, better employment (via skills training), and the ability to live in their homes via rehabilitation.
For most slum inhabitants, who are at constant risk of eviction, land rights are still a hot topic, and this continues to cause extreme poverty and instability.