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