Making cities slum free – A Dream

By Swathi Subramaniam, PRIA

A story of every city big or small…. Dreams are seen in urban cities. This dream brings people from all places to cities. Slums provide them an inexpensive shelter and are found in every city. They constitute close to half of the city’s population and this population is only to grow tremendously. While imagining a slum free city RAY guidelines opened new hopes at the policy level. But it cannot be achieved with only policy in mind. It needs lot of inclusive and interactive support of all stakeholders as well.

A city cannot become slum free unless the issues of the urban poor are connected with other issues of the city. Making India slum free is the biggest challenge which can only be achieved by ‘Breaking the rules’. Just like how a Primary Municipality school is considered a school of urban poor which lacks basic education quality and amenities. This issue can only be addressed if Municipality schools are brought in the same quality and equity as public and private schools. Urban poor should also have free access to private and public schools. The following points come to mind when thinking slums from holistic view:

Institutional Design

Our city municipal council is not empowered to take autonomous decisions. Our 74th Amendment act is an important initiative which has created a third tier of urban governance through local bodies. It needs to be fully implemented.

Urban Development

When we talk of urban development it is primarily about real estate, malls, hotels, roads, flyovers, houses for elite and middle class etc. Urban development has become elitist. How about the urban poor? All the urban development authorities exclude the urban poor from their city planning exercises. Only the ULBs and city agencies have to deal with urban poor and not other authorities. RAY is not considered a part of urban development and is hence isolated. There is no harmony and coordination between all parties involved in planning the city.

Community engagement

‘Islands of wealth cannot survive in a sea of poverty’. This is exactly what is happening in our cities today. There are in city three kinds of communities. The councillors, the urban poor and the urban educated. Unless and until these three communities come together there can never be slum free cities. Participation among these communities is the very crux of community development.

Green slums

Slums have become inaccessible for basic services to reach like, sewerage, water connection etc. Here comes the need for innovation. Various green concepts of water harvesting system, green energy use for generating electricity, innovation in public toilets have to be applied. Shared community resources should be encouraged. Innovation at its best can be seen in Shirdi Sulabh Shauchalay which is the world’s biggest toilet cum bath complex. At one point of time 148 toilets, 108 bathing and rows of urinals. It serves 30,000 users per day.

Another important thing is the check on Environmental Quality. Slums are the most vulnerable to environment degradation. While setting industries one does not bother about existence of slums in nearby areas making the slum dwellers vulnerable to environmental hazards. The same liberty cannot be taken near a residential colony.

Responsibility to community

Complete responsibility of slum planning and basic urban services has to be given to communities. The decentralisation of urban services should be linked to community. This can only be done through ways like community contracting rather than involving other government agencies for it. This will enable empowering the urban slum dwellers as well.

Home for urban poor

RAY policy is one of the important guidelines for construction of urban poor houses. It is a city specific approach. A few steps which RAY involves


The policy also faces certain challenges in its implementation:

  • People get indebtedness for building their own homes
  • RAY talks of demolition but there should be no demolition of slums but incremental housing.
  • Basic services should be decentralised.
  • RAY lacks on slum prevention strategy
  • DPRs are evaluated on the basis of formal tools present
  • Simplification of RAY guidelines


When in many tier 1 and tier 2 cities slum dwellers have land tenure rights then why are they still living in poor condition. Can we think about a model where private entities are also participating in this initiative? This will speed up housing development. For any work, resources always fall short looking at our large population and large poverty. The government has limited resources to cater to needs of large population.

Does entitlement of property right to poor solve the problem of housing? The question remains whether it makes our society slum free.

Lastly, cities will always be a magnet to attract people from rural areas looking for livelihood. Thus the question still awaits its answer on where will these growing migrants stay? Until we find an answer, slums are here only to stay.


One thought on “Making cities slum free – A Dream

  1. sush March 14, 2014 at 11:33 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on reflections on the everyday and commented:
    Another excellent piece from the Terra Urban blog about what it would take to make Indian cities actually “slum free”.

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