M.Phil Scholar, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion & Inclusive Policy. Banaras Hindu University.
India is passing through a phase of rapid urbanization, which has been ushered by general development, industrialization and the huge influx of population from rural to urban areas in search of better economic opportunities. What would precisely be considered as urban development is achieving balanced growth in an urban area with an eye to equity in employment, housing, basic services, social infrastructure and transportation. With the multifarious growth of urbanization, cities today are expanding alarmingly which has resulted in the haphazard growth of the urban areas. It is but that today, due to overgrowing population, the cities are not able to cater the needs of their inhabitants in a way in which it is actually required. The extensively found view is the inadequate water supply arrangements, chocked sewers, poor electricity and the streets full of pit holes unable to cope up the traffic. The most crucial of the problem which is faced in the pathway of the urban development is the growth of slums. The acute housing conditions and poverty are supposed to be the fundamental reasons for the mushroom growth of slums in the urban compass. This is a serious issue which intensifies the problems of local authorities, since the inundation of rural immigrants into the urban periphery increases their workload but gives nothing in return.
Slums have today become a sort of universal occurrence. The UN-Habitat Report (2003) estimates that during the next 15 years, many large cities in Asia and Africa will nearly double their population. This huge increase in population shall not come alone but along with the demand for shelter, source of income and other basic services. But the urban governance and management of services is far from satisfactory. Our policy-makers fail to address the issues of these demands, as a result of which the poor rural immigrants answer their own problems by erecting their temporary abodes that outsets the expansion of jhuggis and unauthorised colonies creating tremendous pressure on the civic infrastructure systems like, water supply, sewerage and drainage, solid waste management etc. Consequently, these urban poorer suffer from adverse health impacts linked to lack of proper shelter and basic services, especially sanitation.
Slums are distinguished by the poor quality of housing, the poverty of inhabitants, the lack of public and private services and the poor integration of the inhabitants into broader community and its opportunity.1 The Oxford Dictionary explains of slums as, “a squalid and overcrowded urban street or district inhabited by very poor people”. Another definition given by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of slums goes as, “a densely populated urban area marked by crowding, dirty run-down housing, poverty, and social disorganization”. As per the UNESCO’s definition, “a slum is a building, a group of buildings or areas characterised by overcrowding, deterioration, unsanitary conditions or absence of facilities of amenities which, because of these conditions or any of them, endanger the health, safety or morals of its inhabitants or community.” Slums, thus, may be characterized as an area of homeless and socially misfit populations with sub-standard or illegal housing structures, disorganized and unhealthy way of life, over-crowding, lack of or, absolutely no basic services and, ill standards of sanitation. All these may be considered as the universal marks of slums. It shall, however, be interesting to note that poverty rather than being counted as the major feature of slums is considered as the primary cause of the slum scenario.
Now, the real challenge arises is that of the serious degradation of the living conditions of the city dwellers which is the result of the soaring rate of urban development. The process of urban development has given rise to a number of problems like shortage of dwelling units, mushrooming growth of jhuggis, encroachment of public lands and expansion unauthorized residential colonies. For instance, whenever big project is undertaken, a lot of workers migrate to towns in quest of employment. With no proper place to live they are left with no choice but to encroach upon the public land and sites earmarked for various developmental projects. Hence creating huge pressure on the civic services and creating major bottlenecks in the proper development of the urban areas. Slums are the by-products of mismanaged policies at the ground level, bad governance, inappropriate regulations, unresponsive financial systems and essential lack of political will. Each of these failures adds to the perils of the people already burdened with poverty. It has been projected that more than a half of the Indian population shall be living in the urban areas by 2020 and nearly one third of this urban population would be the slum dwellers. The ongoing process of prompt urbanization has deleterious repercussions on the health conditions of the slum inhabitants, especially on that of the women and children. The earlier the attempts of the government to solve the slum problem did not work out fruitfully because of their fallacious policies. What they inclined to achieve was to wholly eradicate the slums, which is absolutely impossible as the majority of slum dwellers identify themselves with the city they live in rather than their native place and they plan to settle permanently in the cities. But now, even the policy-makers have realized why all their policies fell flat and have adopted for a broader approach which shall aim at the upgradation of the slums rather than their annihilation.
Eliminating the slums completely from the city is not only an uphill task but shall also result in failures and wastage of both time and cost. It is so because, the slums dwellers are now deeply enrooted into the economic structures of our society and have now become an indispensible part of it. They somehow add, directly or indirectly, to the crucial economic output of the society. The city slums serve as an abode of the low-cost, cheap labor and keep the wheels of the city, churning. Also, removing the slums from the cities would call for their new settlements in the outer skirts of the town, which would be farther from the job opportunities that the slum inhabitants manage to get in the city by getting engaged in all sorts of possible jobs offered through the informal sector. And hence, it would further worsen their conditions and fool the fact of their welfare.
While studying any aspect of the urbanization, we cannot keep ourselves aloof of the rapid increase in the population of the urban areas due to the sea of people migrating from the smaller towns and remotest of the rural areas adjoining the cities. These are responsible for creating an environment of heterogeneity as they all belong to different ethnic and cultural groups. They bring with themselves both the positive and negative aspects dawning over the city. The positivity is that, because of these people a mixed culture is found which adds flavor to the aura of the place and also these people add to the economic importance of the area. But, due to the burgeoning urban population, the urban local bodies come under severe strain particularly in making access to the basic amenities to their inhabitants. These deficiencies in the urban areas are mostly absorbed by the low-income groups and the poorer sections of the city. The infrastructure inadequacies and absence of effective and efficient management leads to service leakages which creates bottlenecks in the pathway of urban development.
The sheer volume of people living in slums causes them to be the obvious easy targets of politicians wanting to increase their percentage of votes. The slum inhabitants are often promised all kinds of support and improvements in return for political allegiance but, their trust is regularly abused. They are mostly unaware of any of the policies or programs of the government. Even if they know anything about these, they blame the mediators for eating all the money in between and they complain of them being deprived of any facilities. The slum dwellers manage to survive somehow on their own and have no expectations out of the schemes and provisions launched by the government for their welfare and advancement and are mostly unaware of any of these policies and programs.
Thus, we see how these slums pose exhausting challenges for the city administration. The problem of slum could be dealt effectively only if we look unto them as not the problem of slums rather as problems of slum, i.e., slums should not be taken as problem but what should be dealt with deep attention is the problems faced by the slums. All we need is certain collaborative approaches and corrective measures which should be taken on the right time and with the right approach. After all, these problems are, somewhere and to some extent, the result of maladministration and mismanagement on the part of the local authorities. All these shortcomings of local administration call for proper planning at the ground level & strong implementation strategies to overcome imperfections and ensure overall development of the urban areas.
For the up-and-coming of a city the government along with the private sector and the civil society should take up the evident steps. Very often, slums develop on public land. The governmental regulatory mechanism that governs these lands has to be strengthened. For instance, as a policy, the concerned department (on whose land the slum has come up) ought to take stock of the land afresh and take care of rehabilitation of the slum dwellers on their own because it was the poor enforcement mechanisms of the department that resulted in the slum. This would trigger a debate on the issues such as land management, land-holdings as per requirements, inventory costs and more importantly, exploring the possibilities for allocating some land for rehabilitation of slum dwellers. Moreover, it might force the department to retrieve parts of the unused land which could then be commercially exploited to finance the slum rehabilitation programs.
Managing cities require local solutions, thus the local authorities need to be empowered with financial and human resources. For this, the local bodies need not solely rely on the funds allocated to them by the centre rather; they need to increase their revenue generation by regulating the tax regime and also, the efficient assessment and collection of taxes need to be taken up with immediate effect. The personnel of the local bodies are required to undergo proper training to deal efficiently with the adverse of the situations. Long-term strategies should be framed and the time calendar ought to be strictly followed.
Usually, the migrated laborer secures a job with contractors, security agencies, householders etc. For such migrated laborers, there should be a City Labor Registration Center, wherein they can get themselves registered and secure their labor Identification Number. These Centers should have direct contact with perspective employers and they should try to find suitable jobs for these workers according to their skills. These migrated labors should be allotted dwelling units and the accommodation expenses should be borne by their respective employers. These dwelling units could be located in the outskirts of the town and the transport facilities should be made available to the workers. Locating their abode outside the hustle-&-bustle of the city would minimize the proliferation of dingy slums in the city to a great extent.
More and more encouragement of the PPP should be taken up both at the state and city level. Role of the state should be to create an enabling environment with an aim to expand, broaden and deepen private sector investments in infrastructure, whereas the role of city should be to develop and implement PPP projects in a process oriented approach. The initiative taken by the Varanasi Municipal Corporation in this regard is indeed laudable. The A-to-Z Waste Management is performing a commendable job in performing the function of waste collection and disposal. Citizen’s cooperation should target to be secured in all the matters pertaining to the local interests.
The rag pickers and the scavengers play an important role in the recycling of the waste. Hence, they should be provided with organizational support and identity so that better recycling is done. In addition to this, a few regulations could be made by the government like, a minimum wage rate can be set for the workers immigrating in the town; strict rules should be followed to prevent the pilferage of funds; it should be made compulsory for the factories having more than, say, 100 laborers working, to have dwelling units for the accommodation of their workers.
The problems prevailing give us a challenge to rebuild a society which would be more equitable and where equal opportunities shall be provided to all for living with dignity. The despair of the underprivileged has to be replaced with hope and their fear with security. And, at the end, it should be understood that slums are not the problems that need to be solved- rather they are the result of lopsided and vested urban policies and, for the poorer, they represent a “solution”. The need of the hour is to find light in the darkest of the scenario and infuse life in the lives that are still waiting for the silver lining.
Bibliography and References:
Bhargava, Gopal (ed.), “Urban Problems and Policy Perspective”, 1996, Mittal Publications, New Delhi. Singh, Kamaldeo Narain, “Urban Development in India”, 1987, Rawat Publications, New Delhi. Prasad, B.K, “Urban Development: A New Perspective”, 1992, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi. Rao, M.S.A (ed.), “Urban Sociology in India”, 1997, Ashish Publishing House, New Delhi. Diwakar, D.M & Sanatan Nayak (ed.), “Development Challenges”, 2007, Manak Publications, New Delhi. Bolay, Jean-Claude , “Slums and Urban Development: Questions on Society and Globalization”, Research Paper, The European Journal of Development Research, vol. 18, no. 02, June 2006. Draft Report of Steering Committee on Urban Development, for 11th Five year Plan, 2007-12, Planning Commission, Government of India, New Delhi. The Challenges of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements, UN-Habitat Report, 2003.