Issues with Slums in India

By: Davendra Sharma


The term ‘Slum’ covers a wide range of low income settlements with poor living conditions.  In the traditional sense slums are those housing areasslum which were once respectable, but have since declined as the original inhabitants moved to better parts of the city and the houses were subdivided and rented out to lower income people. However, in Indian context, the term denotes informal settlements which have come up in a number of cities in the wake of development and urbanization.  The Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1956, defines a slums as an area unfit for habitation, fitness being decided by repair, stability, freedom from damp, natural light and air, water supply, drainage and sanitary conveniences and facilities for storage, preparation and cooking of food and for disposal of waste water. As per the said Act, such an area can be declared as a notified slum area. According to a UN Expert group, a slum is characterized by inadequate access to safe water, inadequate access to sanitation and other infrastructure, poor structural quality of housing, overcrowding and insecure residential status.

Indian Context

  • In India, different states adopted different criterion for identification of slums. Even criterion adopted by the Registrar General of India and the National Sample Survey Organization were different. This hindered the assessment of correct magnitude of the problem
  • An expert committee was formed by the Ministry of Urban Housing and Poverty Alleviation in July, 2008 for correctly assessing slum population. The Committee submitted its report on August, 2010 in which it shortlisted five variables for normative definition. These are, types of materials used for constructing roof and walls of houses, number of dwelling rooms in exclusive possession of the household, availability of drinking water and its source, type of latrine and type of drainage facility.
  • As per estimates of the committee slum population in 2011 was around 93 million.

Reasons for growth of slums

  • Economic development in the country has been uneven, due to which rural areas do not have much employment opportunities. As a result these areas have high rate of unemployment or underemployment due to which people in the villages are forced to migrate to cities for work. This phenomenon increased after independence due to which rapid urbanization took place.
  • This resulted in a rapid increase in urban population. In 1951, 17.3% of population lived in urban areas. The corresponding figure for 2001 and 2011 are 27.81% and 31.2% respectively. For the last decade itself (2001-2011), decadal growth rate of urban areas has been 31.80% as compared to 12.18% of rural areas.
  • As the infrastructure of the city did not increase at a similar pace, it could not provide proper housing and other resources to large number of migrants. Most of these migrants lacked resources and hence were forced to settle wherever they could. Influx of more migrants and internal increase in population swelled the size of slums.
  • Most of the slums came up on the Government land. This happened due to lack of vigil on part of these agencies which allowed encroachment and squatting on their lands.

Problems related to slums

  • The inhabitants lack a security of tenure and are in constant fear of eviction. This prevents them from making substantial investments in improvement of their dwellings.
  • Most of the slums are on the Government land with ownership vesting in the concerned agency. The inhabitants do not have property rights over their houses. This causes hindrance in obtaining basic facilities from civic agencies. Even if these are provided, these are never at par or comparable to other areas of the city.
  • Most of the houses are very small comprising of only one room for a household. These are shabbily built without any provision for natural light or ventilation.
  • Most of the inhabitants work as unskilled or semi skilled laborers and are usually below poverty line. 
  • Unhygienic living conditions along with poverty create health problems. Large numbers of children are malnourished and respiratory diseases are common. Child mortality rate in these areas is the highest in the country.
  • Although government has made efforts to provide education to the children in the slums, enrolment rate is low and dropout rate is high as poverty forces the family to send every child to work.
  • Inhabitants are prone to evils like alcoholism which results in domestic abuse and other social, economic and health problems.

Efforts by the Government

  • The approach of the Government has been positive. In PDS, ration is given to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) families at lesser price as compared to other people. Support is also provided to the poor through Antyodaya Anna Yojana. This has helped in meeting the food requirements of the urban poor.  
  • National Slum Development Programme was launched in 1996 for upgradation of slums and for providing basic amenities like water supply, roads, street lights, latrines etc. The programme was discontinued from the year 2006. Since the inception of the programme and up to 31-08-2006 an amount of Rs. 2496.18 crore was spent and about 4.58 crores of slum dwellers benefited from this programme.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission in 2005. The mission stressed on augmenting urban infrastructure and providing of basic services to the urban poor. It has four components out of which two i.e. Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUIP) and Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme are (IHSDP) are focused on development of slum areas.
  • One more scheme, Rajiv Awas Yojna was launched in June, 2009. It aimed at encouraging states/union territories by tackling the problem holistically by bringing the existing slums within the formal system and enabling them to avail of the same level of basic amenities as the rest of the town, redressing the failures of the formal system that lie behind the creation of slums and tackling the shortages of urban land and housing that keep shelter out of reach of the urban poor.
  • Apart from the problem of housing, a few schemes were also initiated for providing gainful employment to the urban poor. Nehru Rozgar Yojana (NRY), Urban Basic Services for the Poor (UBSP), and Prime Minister’s Integrated Urban Poverty Eradication Programme (PMIUPEP) were some such schemes. These were later merged into Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY) in the year 1997.  The key objective of SJSRY was to provide gainful employment to the urban unemployed or underemployed through the setting up of self-employment ventures or provision of wage employment.


  • National Sample Survey organization conducted a survey of ‘notified’ as well as ‘non-notified slums’ from July, 2008 to June, 2009. As per this survey, in 64% of the notified slums and 50% of the non notified slums, majority of the dwellings were pucca units.  For 95% slums, the major source of drinking water was either tap or tube well.  Only 1% notified and 7% non-notified slums did not have electricity connection. About 78% of notified slums and 57% of the non-notified slums had a pucca road inside the slum. About 73% notified and 58% non-notified slums had a motorable approach road.
  • As per this report, sanitary conditions in the slums in terms of latrine facility during 2008-09 showed considerable improvement since 2002. Latrines with septic tanks (or similar facility) were available in 68% notified and 47% non-notified slums (up from 66% and 35% respectively in 2002). Underground sewerage existed in about 33% notified slums (30% in 2002) and 19% non-notified slums (15% in 2002). Government agencies were collecting garbage from 75% notified and 55% non-notified slums. Among these slums, garbage was collected at least once in 7 days.
  • As on 30/06/12, 1031616 houses were sanctioned under the BSUP component of JNNURM. Out of these 442616 were completed and 227152 were under construction. 245397 houses have already been occupied.
  • Similarly, 570503 houses have been sanctioned under the IHSDP component of JNNURM out of which 179132 houses have been completed and 130949 are under construction. 131454 houses have already been occupied.


The above said situation indicates that the approach of the Government has been positive and is also yielding some results. However, the efforts are more in the direction of curing the symptom than the disease. The real problem lies in the lack of opportunities in the rural areas which pushes the rural population to the cities. Unless, this trend is stopped the problem of slums will be hard to control.         


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