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Rapid Urbanisation and Plight of Slums

  • 25 Aug 2021
  • 8 min read

Why in News

Urbanisation in India has become an inescapable ordeal. With development of the services sector, the population pressure on cities has escalated.

  • Delhi is the sixth-largest metropolis in the world. And yet, a third of its residences are part of slums with no basic resources.


  • Slums are illegal urban settlements on public land and usually grow over a period of time in a constant and irregular manner. Despite this fact, slums are considered as an integral part of urbanization and as a manifestation of the overall socioeconomic policies and planning in the urban sector.
  • Slums may also be described as “a chaotically occupied, unsystematically developed and generally neglected area, which is overpopulated by persons and overcrowded with ill-repaired and neglected structures" (Indian Conference, 1957).
  • The existence and rapid growth of slums have been noted as a general urban phenomena common prevalent throughout the globe.

Key Points

  • About:
    • Urbanization refers to the population shift from rural to urban areas, the corresponding decrease in the proportion of people living in rural areas, and the ways in which societies adapt to this change.
    • Cities face the adverse outcomes of rapid urbanisation such as overpopulation, acute shortage of housing and basic amenities, environment pollution, unemployment and social unrest.
    • The model of building a developed city comprises unplanned development, which only bolsters the dichotomy prevailing in urban cities between the rich and the poor.
    • Also the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the misery of urban poor or Slum dwellers dependent on the people working in various sectors in cities.
  • Status of Slum:
    • India has a population of 65.49 million people living in 13.7 million slum households across the country. As much as 65% of Indian cities have adjoining slums where people live in small houses adjacent to each other.
      • Delhi slums are known to be the filthiest among all metropolitan cities in the country.
      • Delhi had approximately 6,343 slums with more than a million households where 52% of its total population resided, according to a survey by National Service Scheme round (July 2012-December 2012).
  • Impact of Covid on Slum Dwellers:
    • Financial insecurity:
      • Nearly 81% of India’s population works in the informal sector. The sudden implementation of complete Covid lockdown has severely affected the ability of slum dwellers to earn their living.
      • After the shutdown, Delhi witnessed a wave of Reverse Migration, when thousands of migrant workers headed back to their hometowns. Nearly 70% slum dwellers reported loss of employment; 1% pending dues from previous months; 10% reduction of wages and 8% other effects.
    • Public Distribution System & Social Sector Scheme Coverage:
      • A large section of rural residents could cushion the blow of pandemic-driven economic disruption due to foodgrain via the Public Distribution System (PDS). The urban poor’s access to such ration, however, was minimal.
      • The social security schemes also had relatively better coverage among the rural poor as rural areas had better access to PDS rations.
      • A larger proportion of households in urban areas did not have access to ration cards.
    • Unveiling Existing Inequalities:
      • The Covid-19 pandemic has now torn open the tapestry to reveal the ugly mess inside the slums. Washing hands and observing physical distancing was impossible to follow in slums.
      • Nearly 21.8% of slum households in Delhi depend on shared water sources such as public taps.
    • Nutrition and Hunger:
      • A decline in nutritional quality and quantity was more among the urban respondents as was the need to borrow money for buying food.
      • Overall, levels of hunger and food insecurity remained high, with little hope of the situation improving without measures specifically aimed at providing employment opportunities as well as food support.
  • Issues Arising from Neglecting Slum Development:
    • Vulnerable to Diseases:
      • People living in slum areas are also prone to suffer from waterborne diseases such as Typhoid and cholera, as well as from more fatal ones like Cancer and HIV/AIDS.
    • Victims of Social Evils:
      • Also, women and children living in slums are prone to become victims of social evils like prostitution, beggary and Child trafficking.
      • Slum dwellers in general and regardless of gender, often become victims of such social evils.
    • Incidence of Crime:
      • Slum areas are also commonly believed to be places that generate a high incidence of crime. This is due to official neglect towards education, law and order, and government services in slum areas.
    • Poverty:
      • Then, the majority of slum dwellers in a developing country earn their living from the informal sector which neither provides them with financial security nor with enough earnings for a decent living, keeping them firmly within the vicious cycle of poverty.
  • Government Initiatives for Slum Dwellers/Urban Poor:
  • Recommendations:
    • Accelerating efficiency of welfare and relief schemes.
    • Ensuring access to free vaccines, food security and adequate shelter in the slums.
    • Improving sanitation and transportation facilities in slums.
    • Establishing clinics and healthcare facilities.
    • Aiding nonprofits and local support bodies who have better reach to these marginalised communities.

Way Forward

  • The benefits reached only a small part of the intended beneficiaries. Most relief funds and benefits do not reach slum dwellers, mainly because these settlements are not officially recognised by the government.
  • An absence of proper social security measures in India has come to the fore and has a huge impact on our ability to fight against the virus. Thus, new approaches to urban planning and effective governance are the need of the hour.
  • Necessary actions should be taken to build sustainable, robust and inclusive infrastructure. Instead of a top-down approach, we need to adopt a bottom-up approach to better understand unique challenges faced by the urban poor.

Source: DTE

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