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Urban Explosion: VITAL TO UPGRADE SLUMS, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 22 April, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 22 April 2013

Urban Explosion


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The urban explosion in India and most Third World countries has become a major problem. Due to lack of adequate facilities in towns and cities, which are expanding at a rapid pace. In fact, a recent McKinsey Global report places India at the forefront of urban uncertainty.

With rapid urbanization, our town’s population are expected to increase to dangerously high levels. Indeed in less than 10 years, 35 cities would grow into mega cities, each with a 10 million population. Also, slum dwellers will double from the current 30% even as their traffic movement would dwindle by 35-40% and the average family space would shrink from 2000 sq. ft to 80 sq. ft.  

Contrary to this report of increasing congestion and growth of slums and squatter settlements, another survey released by the Census Commissioner found that the proportion of slum dwellers fell by over 36% between 2001-2011. While, the 2001 census found 27.5% of the country’s urban population in slums by 2011, the figure had fallen by 17.4%, 1.37 crores out of a total population of 7.89 crores. The highest proportion of slum dwellers was in Andhra Pradesh (35.7%) followed by Madhya Pradesh (28.3) and Maharashtra (28.3) and Bengal (21.9).

Pertinently, census authorities’ description of a slum as a residential area where dwelling are “unfit for human habitation” due to “dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design of buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of streets and lack of ventilation, light, sanitation facilities”. The report revealed that “there is stark similarity between amenities and assets” in slum and non-slum areas though this actually is not the real situation.

Besides, water supply in most slums is not adequate and the population percentage using tap water in non-slum and slum areas was found to be 70.6% and 74% respectively. Questionably, do the people get adequate water? For how many hours water is it available? Clearly, sanitation is very poor in slums and squatter settlements notwithstanding that 81.4% population in non-slum and 66.4% in slum areas have latrines on the premises. But these figures do not tally with other Government data on poor sanitation existing in urban and rural areas of the country.

However, on cannot deny that urban development authorities have done lot of work in the fields of water, sanitation and health in recognized slum areas during the last decade. Yet due to resource constraints faced by most municipalities they have not been able to carry out development work to the required demand.

Further, thanks to heavy migration of population from rural to urban areas in search of employment, up-gradation work has been inadequate. With congestion in towns increasing significantly whereby most finds themselves in slums and other make-shift settlements, thus creating pressure on the existing infrastructure. Simultaneously, with pollution rising in cities, it has led to increasing diseases of the poor and economically weaker sections. 

Worse, criminal activities in urban areas have seen a rapid increase. Along-with shrinkage of playgrounds, shared spaces for recreation and parks which are rapidly vanishing. There is lack of safety and security and few people want to venture out for recreation.

Importantly, the need of the hour is for interventions by development authorities to ensure that basic civic amenities are made available not just in recognized slums but also in squatter settlements. Though resources are obviously a big constraint, funds need to be borrowed to be ploughed for infrastructure development.

At the same time, housing for the poor has to be taken up in right earnest. Many are optimistic about the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAW) as it would focus on the poorer sections of society. Experts say the projects could achieve economies of scale by having 2000 to 3000 houses at one time in a single location, using alternative and local materials like machine-made bricks, particle boards and PVC material, environment-friendly building material from industrial and agricultural wastes (like fly ash, stone dust etc.) and adopting economical construction systems. 

Obviously land is the critical problem for resettlement of residents of slums and squatter settlements. Indeed, relocation far from the city has not been effective because residents have to commute to the city daily for their livelihood. This factor has to be taken into consideration in preparing schemes of rehabilitation as shelter and employment are intrinsically connected. It is because of this that the Government has decided to upgrade slums by giving a part of the land for slum re-housing and allotting the other part to the developer for commercial use. 

Consequently, it is necessary that projects need to be planned with a definite pro-poor emphasis. In a planned manner through a comprehensive and realistic strategy. Six things need to be addressed, one regularization of unauthorized colonies; wherever it is not possible a phased and well thought out relocation plan should be worked out. Two, slum up-gradation/ renovation and progressive housing development should be simultaneous with bestowing occupancy rights.

Three, stoppage on forced evictions; alongside where absolutely necessary ‘proper’ rehabilitation should be arranged with the basic facilities like water and sanitation, educational facilities and communication network. Four, reinstating housing or shelter rights to the displaced, including all those evicted in recent years, in a ‘proper’ way with the JNNURM’s funds or any other scheme.

Five, based on the principle that water is life and sanitation dignity, water supply and sanitation should be made available by the Government or responsible agencies to slum dwellers irrespective of their tenure status. Six, night shelters with sanitary facilities be immediately provided for pavement dwellers and homeless in all metros, especially Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and Hyderabad.

Lastly,   Non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) be encouraged in assisting and facilitating self-help housing by providing funds and other technical help in ensuring that low-cost techniques are adhered to. ------ INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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