In an op-ed today in Hindustan Times , http://www.hindustantimes.com/ViewsSectionPage/ColumnsOthers/Is-the-glass-half-full-or-half-empty/Article1-1046670.aspx , Amitab Kundu speaks of the exclusionary urbanization of India, a phenomenon well explicit with the census 2011 report recently published. The report cites that Slums have reported significant improvement in terms of access to basic amenities and possession of consumer assets, reducing thereby gaps between slum and non-slum areas over time and that the percentage of slum population has come down drastically during the past decade.
However what the report ignores according to Kundu is the fact that this decline in the growth rate of slum population, people below the poverty line and even that of total urban population are clear indications of an exclusionary urbanisation in the country. This process of exclusion is much stronger in metropolitan cities that provide high quality infrastructure to attract national and global entrepreneurs and build commercial and residential complexes for the upper middle class and the middle class. The process of ‘sanitisation of cities’ is operationalised by pushing the slums from the central areas to the peripheries, particularly in metro cities. This has led to demolition of slums that did not have the basic amenities or those where poor migrants lived in extremely unhygienic conditions. The percentages of households having access to amenities and assets have, thus, gone up through elimination of slums at the lower end.
Also, the data provided on basic amenities by the Census captures the availability of the amenities and assets but not the quality variation. People do not survive without drinking water and even if they get a bucket or two after waiting for two hours in front of a public stand post, they are placed in the category of people having tap water. The same is true for all other facilities.
Kundu correctly questions whether the statistics as mentioned in the Census Report should be taken at face value as an indication of inclusivity of the cities and opportunities they offer to migrants in slums to get integrated with city lifestyle or rather as a dilemma whether the glass is half full or empty!