Monthly Archives: March 2013

Slums are hubs of hope, progress and dignity – Swaminomics

TerraUrban recently shared the results of the new report showing that 64 million people, representing one in six urban residents, live in slums with unsanitary conditions “unfit for human habilitation” by the Census Commissioner.

Today’s writing of Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar in The Times of India, questions this notion of slums – still being seen as “unfit for human habilitation”. Infact, he argues that slums are quite to the contrary of being unfit for habilitation, instead they are entry-points of the poor into the land of urban opportunity.They are also  hubs of rising income and asset ownership, which have already generated several rupee millionaires These entry points are  illegal, yet fully accepted by politicians as a legitimate form of entry. So, shanty-towns are frequently regularized before election time.No politician dares raze them. Rather, they are improved through supplies of water and electricity. Many slums simply steal electricity, with the tacit backing of politicians plus bribes to linesmen.

The census description of slums as “unfit for human habitation” is highly misleading. In fact census data prove that slums are much better off than villages, which are presumably fit for habitation! No less than 70% of slum households have TVs, against only 47% of total Indian households. The ratio is just 14.5% in Bihar and 33.2% in UP. Even Narendra Modi’s shining Gujarat (51.2%) and Pawar’s Maharashtra (58.8%) have a far lower rate of TV ownership than our slums!

True, 34% of slums don’t have toilets. Yet the ratio is as high as 69.3% in rural India. Ratios are worst in rural Jharkhand (90%) and Bihar (82%). But even Modi’s Gujarat (67%) and Pawar’s Maharashtra (62%) are far worse off than urban slums.

Similar stories hold for access to tap water, education, healthcare, electricity or jobs. As many as 90% of slum dwellers have electricity, against barely half of rural households. Ownership of cellphones (63.5%) is as high among slum dwellers as richer urban households, and way above rural rates. One-tenth of slums have computers, and 51% have cooking gas (not far short of 65 per cent of total urban households). Amazingly, more slum households (74 per cent) have tap water than total urban households (70.6 per cent).

So, let nobody misinterpret the Census report on slums as a terrible indictment. The report does indeed highlight unsanitary, cramped conditions, and the need to improve these. Yet it also provides a wealth of data showing how slums are better off than villages, and how on some counts slum-dwellers are as well off as richer urban dwellers. The report fails to highlight the extent to which slums have generated thousands of thriving businesses. It also fails to highlight the role of slums in helping conquer rural caste and feudal oppression.

As S.A. Aiyar summarises: “We need more slums, more hubs of opportunity. The urban gentry want to demolish slums, but they are plain wrong. Instead we should improve slum sanitation, water supply and garbage disposal. We need more improved slums, upgraded slums, but slums nevertheless”

Question is – How should a ‘planned’ slum be?!!


Illustration from Indian Express


Self- Regularisation by an Informal Settlement Community

An incredible story in unfolding in Moeggesukkel informal settlement in Port Elizabeth. Read this account on how a community initiated a self-regularisation process with zero external help.

At the end of 2012, the community started mapping out the existing layout of their settlement and started allocating lots to individual households. With very little professional or technical support, the community is now taking proactive measures to start a regularisation process which the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality (NMMM) can initiate the upgrading of the area.

The Moeggesukkel technical team is leading the procces by measuring the plots and assisting the community with moving and building the shacks. Working from satellite image, the technical team has started mapping informal walk ways, public water and sanitation infrastructure, electricity poles and so forth. The existing layout of the shacks, as per the satellite image, were noted, and potential reconfiguration of this low-density peri-urban informal settlement was suggested.

Read more at : moeggesukkel community maps out settlement

The broom-makers who could not get their neighbourhood cleaned: a metaphor of urban poverty in Muzzafarpur

By Abhishek Jha & Hugo Ribadeau Dumas, PRIA

a1At first sight, Aghoray Bazar does not appear as a particularly outstanding place. Located in the heart of Muzzafarpur, the neighbourhood looks from outside just as any other Indian slum. The community lives in shabby dwellings, public services are very scarce (1 water tap is available for 800 inhabitants), and economic perspectives are desperately narrow. Most strikingly, the slum is pathetically dirty. A carpet of rubbish covers the lanes, and the lack of maintenance makes the air genuinely unhygienic. Apart from its negative impact on the visual aspect of the neighbourhood, this dirtiness represents a real sanitary challenge, especially for physically weaker citizens. Clearly, the sight of Aghoray Bazar is not rejoicing. But one could argue that, unfortunately, such situation remains relatively banal in 2013 Indian cities.

In reality, however, despite the apparent lack of originality of this story, Aghoray Bazar constitutes a powerful metaphor of urban poverty in India. The portrait of the slum would be incomplete without mentioning the main survival strategy of the local community, which is sadly and acidly ironical.  In the sea of dirtiness of the neighbourhood, the inhabitants have indeed specialized themselves in the fabrication of brooms. Aghoray Bazar’s brooms, made out of inexpensive coconut fibres, are cheap and get exported all across India. The slum hence indirectly participates, whatever microscopically, in maintaining the nation clean. But, cruelly, the tight claws of poverty make them incapable to get rid of the dirt in their own locality.


In Aghoray Bazar, broom-crafting is a community as well as a family business. The quasi totality of the population earns its life by fabricating brooms and all the members of the family usually take part in the activity. Woman clean and single out the coconut fibres, children tie them with wood, and the men then go to the market to sell the finished product. Few children of the neighbourhood get the occasion to go to school, as their small hands are crucial for the business to go on. The brooms are then sent all over India by private contractors. Slum-dwellers sell each broom for Rs. 2. Households usually manage to fabricate approximately 50 to 60 of them each day. The average wage is thus about Rs. 100-120 a day per family. It should also be underlined that various males of the neighbourhood have been hired by the municipality as sweepers, and therefore get paid to clean the streets of Muzzafarpur.

Still, despite the skills developed by some inhabitants as sweepers, and despite the easy access to cleaning tools, Aghoray Bazar’s streets remain invariably squalid. The scarcity of free-time due to hard labour (after all, we do not ask middle-classes to clean-up the streets of their neighbourhood), the absence of supportive external agency (and especially of the State) and the absence of structured community mobilization may explain why till today no solution has been found to offer a healthier environment to Aghoray Bazar.

The tale of Aghoray Bazar, the broom-making slum who could not get cleaned, constitutes a real-life metaphor of urban poverty today in India. It is the story of a slum serving the rest of the society, by fabricating products of basic uses for us, but incapable of helping itself. It echoes the fate of all these destitute neighbourhoods full of servants, guards, drivers – hence full of those who make our cities work – and who remain marginalized due to a strictly limited access to basic services.

Aghoray Bazar’s tale is also the story of a community fitted with a genuine potential but incapable to capitalize on it. The dirtiness of the broom-maker slum symbolizes the difficulties of the urban poor to organize themselves in order to take the best out of their strengths. We should be here careful to avoid normative judgements. We are not trying to argue that slum dwellers are to be solely blamed; the lack of State support seems equally, if not more, responsible of the bad hygienic conditions of the neighbourhood. Instead, our point here is to show that making citizens aware of their capacities and offering them the possibility to coordinate could constitute a good opportunity of development for the locality.

To reverse the situation in Aghoray Bazar, no magic recipe seems to exist. Nobody can promise that the jhadoo (“brooms” in Hindi) will be turned into jadoo sticks (“magic sticks”). However, it is highly probable that community mobilization could help slum dwellers to become aware of their potential as a group. It might take time, and even engender local resistance. But, in certain cases, it will eventually help to sweep, little by little, poverty away.

The authors of this article can be contacted here:;  

Report on Housing Stock, Amenities and Assets in Slums

Report on Housing Stock, Amenities and Assets in Slums Based on House listing & House Census 2011 Released 

Shri Ajay Maken, Union Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation released the report on  Housing stock, Amenities and Assets in slums based on Houselisting & House Census, 2011. On the occasion Shri Maken urged the states and other stakeholders to change their attitude towards urban poor living in slum areas. He also said that these statistics and data will help the government in redrawing programme and policies. Speaking about the findings of the data, the Minister further stated that Ministry of Housing and Urban PovertyAllevation will not make any distinction between notifed, recognized and identified slums while formulating developmental schemes and grants.

Minister of State in Home Affairs Shri RPN Singh congratulated Registrar General, India (RGI)on the report and said that these data will be used by Centre, states and other stakeholders. Shri Singh also requested RGI to issue data on female headed household. Earlier speaking on the findings of the report, Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Allevation Shri Arun KumarMisra said that the data reflect that there is hardly any difference in infrastructure facilities available in Urban areas and slums.

 Registrar General, India Dr. C. Chandramouli presented the important features of the report and outlined its importance.

 The highlights of the report are as follows:-

  • In all 1.73 Crore Census houses have been reported in the House listing Blocks categorized as Slums in India, comprising 1.37 Crore slum households.
  • There are 19 cities with million plus population where more than 25% households live in slums.
  • A majority (71%) of these are located in six States namely, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
  • Out of these 19 cities, five cities namely, Vishakhapatnam, Jabalpur, Mumbai, Vijayawada and Meerut have more than 40% slum households.
  • Out of total slum houses, 92.7% are occupied and 7.3% are vacant.
  • 84.9% Census Houses are used for residence/residence-cum-other use.
  • 58.4% residential census houses are in good condition, 37.5% are livable andrest 4.0% are in dilapidated condition.
  • 70.2% Slum households are owned. Rest are mostly rented
  • 74 % households use Tap as the main source of drinking water followed by hand pump/tube well (20.3%)
  • Source of drinking water is available to 56.7% of the households within the premises in slums; 31.9% have the source located near (within 100m) the premises and 11.4% have to travel more than 100 m away to fetch drinking water.
  • More than 90% slum households use electricity as main source of lighting, 8.2% kerosene and 0.7% households have other source of lighting and 0.5% households have no lighting in the slum areas.
  • 66% households are having latrine facility within the premises meaning that every third household (34%) has no latrine facility within the premises.  18.9% slum households defecate in open and 15.1% use public latrine.
  • 81% slum households have a bathroom or an enclosure without roof. 53.2% households avail banking service in slum areas.
  • About 70% slum households have television in their houses for entertainment, 18.7% possess Radio / Transistor.
  • Computers/laptops have not made inroads in slums to the desired extent. Only 10.4% households have computer/laptop  in their house, out of which 3.3% have computer/laptop with internet connection (as against 9.3% in non-slum areas) and 7.1% without internet connection.
  • 72.7% slum households have telephone facility out of which 4.4% have land line connection, 63.5% mobile and 4.8% have both facilities. In non-slum areas this percentage is 83.9.

Platform of Interface of service providers and community!


In India and in Bihar, the urban poor are theoretically entitled to a certain amount of social security schemes. Pensions (for widows, physically-challenged citizens, students, etc…), training programs, and even infrastructural assistance are supposed to be provided by the government to answer the urgent needs of these highly marginalized populations. However, despite this legal framework apparently favorable to poorer citizens, the reality is actually not as shining as it appears. The degree of penetration of State endeavors still remains relatively poor among marginalized communities. In Biharsharif, for instance, field researches conducted by PRIA showed 40% of the potential beneficiaries of the widow pension scheme do not get any paisa from the State.

Keeping this in view, an interface between slum dwellers and the state was organized in Biharsharif and Patna City, under the project ‘Strengthening Civil Society Voices on Urban Poverty in India’, which modestly aimed at filling the information gap and generating a dynamic dialogue between different stakeholders.

This process of interface witnessed a presence of various stakeholders viz. Municipal Commissioner (BMC), Mayor (BMC), Dy. Mayor (Patna), Elected Representatives from various wards (BIharshairf and Patna) official from directorate of social security, media houses. The event served as a platform where citizens had the opportunity to share directly their worries, interrogations and needs with their representatives.


Community can influence Policy Changes!

PRIA- Jaipur

Recently on Terra Urban you read about the intense advocacy by PRIA in Rajasthan regarding the rights of slum dwellers. While discussing the plight of widows and old women in availing pension schemes with Mr. Pratap Singh Khachariawas, MLA, Civil Lines, Jaipur, community members together with PRIA expressed how the irrational condition of permitting the benefit to only those widows/ old women who do not have a family member above 25 years is still valid in the state. As you read in the article Addressing the Problems of Slum Dwellers Mr. Pratap Singh Khachariawas further raised the demand of the community in the Vidhan Sabha.

A breakthrough regarding the same happened when Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced the Rajasthan Budget 2013-14 in beginning of March 2013 and addressed the long pending demand with regard to state’s old age pension and widow pension scheme.  Chief Minister announced to abolish a condition of not having a member above 25 years of age in family to become eligible for the schemes!

This breakthrough is just one of the signs of how the strength and voice of the community can influence policy changes!


Schemes for Urban Poor- ‘one point information’

by Anshu Singh and Suman Bhanoo, PRIA

The biggest dilemma  of the urban poor in availing their rights, is not knowing how to! Even though for private players government makes quick ‘single window clearance mechanism’, the same doesn’t happen for the poor. The urban poor does not even have a cumulative access to the applicable schemes for them!

PRIA has embarked on a set of key initiatives focusing on capacity building, knowledge building, participatory research, citizen-centric development, and policy advocacy. With a combination of training, research and consultancy, it has grounded its work with conceptual rigor and understanding of social reality to command the strategic direction of interventions.                                                                                        


Read below to get detailed information about these schemes: