Tag Archives: Poverty

The Fear of Poverty

Nidhi Batra

Our upbringing has always been focused towards attainting ‘security’. Study, earn money and ‘be secure’. Most of us do manage to reach this is idea of security. But imagine living in a constant sense of fear, expectation and the unknown. Imagine living according to the whims of others. Imagine living in the hands of poverty!

Poverty is this phenomenon of ‘unknown’. You never know what you would be hit with the next moment! Recently team from PRIA went to Bandhu basti in B6 Vasant Kunj to undertake a slum mapping exercise. Before we began our work, we all were chatting and discussing the ‘fire’ that struck another nearby basti just few days ago. One of the social worker who had been actively working in the slum that caught fire was informing us about all the rehabilitation work that is going on. Interestingly he mentioned that the first to reach the slum after the accident (or maybe incident) was the Lieutenant Governor himself. This gave a lot of hope to the community and there has been a positive movement towards rehabilitation – clothes, foods, material for construction are being sent to this basti. Some ‘compensation’ by the government shall also be given.

Then the very next day one read of the possible ‘Land Mafia’ that might have resulted in this incident. A planned move by the local goons who grab vacant land in Vasant Kunj and give it on rent to the migrants to build their shanties. Now that the rebuilding exercise is on, they are back again charging ‘new rent’. For sure this is no ‘new episode’ for the slum dwellers. At some point or the other they know that they will be evicted. Either by the goons or by the government. In Bandhu basti where we were working a lady told us that the entire basti had filled forms for Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) last year and submitted Rs 100 each to the government. However there hasn’t even been a preliminary survey in this basti. According to her, RAY is just for the TVs! Nothing on ground ever happens!

What is the difference between Bandhu Basti and the slum that was burnt in Vasant Kunj? None really! In one the government has failed them and in the other the private has extorted them. Poor forever remain trapped!

But then George Bernard Shaw taught us:

You are going to let the fear of poverty govern your life and your reward will be that you will eat, but you will not live.

Are the poor in your city really living?!


Urban poverty and governance – West Bengal

PRIA and Child in Need Institute is organizing a campaign in West Bengal on urban poverty and governance issues. Here are some of the issues raised:

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Economic Contribution of the Urban Poor

The illegitimate status of our urban poor has generally classified this section of the society as a ‘burden to the city’. However, a recent study by Society for Participatory Research in Asia and Indicus Analytics is an ‘eye-opener’. The study examines and reconfirms the high ‘Economic Contribution of this Urban Poor’, in the city’s GDP. Thereby, contesting that this ‘illegitimate’ child of the city, is significant and respects the same rights and services as its legitimate other.

A primary survey of 50 top cities in India was conducted to achieve the study objective. The survey captured various socio-economic–demographic dimensions of urban informal settlements dwellers in these cities. A total of about 5350 households and about 24500 individuals were covered in the survey. The focus of the questionnaire was to capture information about income–expenditure, employment, nature of job, education, living conditions and the similar information to understand the economic component of their life as well as their standard of living.

Subsequently, a social accounting matrix (SAM) of India was constructed that includes urban informal sector as a component. SAM is the best possible tool that takes into account the inter-linkages among various economic agents within an economy. One of the advantages of SAM is that it can incorporate certain sections of households into a framework whereby the impact of that section on the economy in terms of contribution to income (GDP) as well as the multipliers can be computed, thus allowing precise quantification of the informal settlement population’s contribution to urban economy. In addition, the study also captures the perceptions of non-informal settlement households regarding the role of the target segment of population in a city life. This qualitative analysis provides an understanding of the shadow cost of non-existence of this section of population in the urban centres.

The following are the significant findings of the research study:

  • In the million-plus population cities, nearly 40% of the households live in slums. Five metropolitan cities of the country, namely, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata, account for more than 50% of the total slum households in the country. States such as Delhi and Maharashtra raise concerns as they already have a high slum population and are, according to a recent report by National Building Organization (NBO), expected to face relatively high growth rates in the coming years.
  • The Census of India 2011 shows that about 35% of the slum population does not have access to ‘treated’ tap water from a municipal corporation. More than 25% of the slum dwellers use water from hand pumps, tube wells or some other undefined sources that might be highly hazardous to their health.
  • Maharashtra, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Delhi show that about 50% of slum dwellers do not have sanitation facilities within house premise. Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have more than 40% of slum households practicing open-air defecation. This figure is also high for Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
  • At an all-India level, 36% of slum households do not have three basic facilities, viz., electricity, tap water and sanitation, within the house premises. States such as Bihar, Assam, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha reveal a very sad state of affairs with less than 20% of the slum with these basic amenities.
  • There is a stark difference between facilities available at notified and non-notified slums. Non-notified slums have significantly poorer amenities compared to notified slums
  • The primary survey data suggest that self-employed workers in informal settlements have greater average earning than their counterparts employed as casual labour and even those in regular salaries/wage jobs. However, significant variations are observed across cities. This employment status category might be the repository of much disguised unemployment in informal settlements as seen by the fewer number of months being worked by casual labourers.
  • Informal sector is found to be the most important employment source for informal settlement population in the distributions across livelihood categories. Majority of employed members in informal settlements are in the unskilled service worker category. Among business owners, we see the range of informal sector enterprises that are being run by the residents of informal settlements, most of them as service providers where formal provision is inadequate.
  • Within informal settlements income varies significantly. Though at the lower income level, income and expenditure are almost equal in most cases, the expenditure to earnings ratio of informal settlement households decreases with increase in income. Food is expectedly the most important expenditure category, especially for the lower income households within informal settlements. On an average, expenditure on food is almost half of the total monthly income. Health, education and conveyance also have significant expenditure shares.
  • Debt is quite common among the informal settlement dwellers. However, penetration of banks and microfinance institutions is found to be low.
  • A majority of informal settlement dwellers have lower than middle school education. Income, as expected, increases with higher level of education. Tenure security and housing conditions, which are important indicators of socio-economic status, vary across cities. A sizeable proportion of the informal settlement population is composed of migrants, who are primarily from rural areas, but not necessarily from different states. The migrants were predominantly of the permanent sort who had been living in the city for many years. The motivation for the migration was mostly unemployment or low wages in the place of origin.
  • Large proportion of informal settlement dwellers are in productive age group. Therefore, with better facilities and living condition, increased productivity level of this section of population can boost the economy further.
  • The survey shows that new migrants face difficulties in settling in new cities in terms of various dimensions of daily living. The major problems they face are in terms of rent, access to PDS, access to banking facilities, land tenure facilities
  • Proportion of female earning members and the female work participation is much lower than the male members, which perhaps is an indicator of gender inequality in availing employment opportunities.
  • Through constructing SAM including informal sector dwellers as an economic agent, the study has captured direct, indirect and induced impact of activities (related to both production and consumption) of informal settlement dwellers on urban economy.
  • GDP multiplier of informal settlement dwellers is 1.4, which in simple words suggests that because of one extra unit of increase income by informal settlement households, total of 1.4 units of GDP will be experienced as total impact (including direct, indirect and induced).
  • Assuming that urban GDP is about 60% of total GDP, the total contribution of informal settlement dwellers to urban GDP of India is 7.53%.
  • Total output multiplier for economic sectors is 2.90. This suggests that an injection of one additional unit of demand from informal settlement households will result in an additional output generation of 2.90 units in the economy.
  • Total household income multiplier of informal settlement dwellers is 2.0. This suggests that an injection of one additional unit of demand from informal settlement households will result in an additional household income generation of 2.0 units in the economy.
  • In case of most of the production sectors, urban informal settlement households show a higher multiplier than rest of the urban households. Education is the only sector where multiplier is higher for rest of the urban households than informal sector households.
  • The probable reason for higher multiplier for urban informal sector is that because of aspirations to catch up with urban lifestyle, any extra income of urban informal settlement dwellers is converted to consumption and savings are scarce. On the other hand, in case of non-informal settlement dwellers in urban areas, additional income is generally converted into savings. Thus consumption propensity of urban informal settlement dwellers for any additional unit of income is higher than non-informal settlement dwellers.
  • About 40% of the non-informal settlement urban sample households think that their daily life will be affected adversely if the informal settlements and the people living there are removed

The study suggests that informal settlement dwellers play positive roles in urban economy as well as urban life apart from a few known adverse roles. Their contribution to urban GDP, and some of the “difficult to replace” nature of jobs they are engaged in, makes them an integral productive economic agent of the urban economy. Based on the Census of India 2011 data, as well as primary survey data of informal settlements of 50 cities, the study also suggests that a large proportion of the households do not even have access to the basic facilities. As the services provided to this section of population are often considered as favour to the community rather than their basic right, the approach and attitude of the authorities needs to be re-examined.

Download the entire study at : http://www.pria.org/pdf/Urban_Poor_Economic_Contribution_Final_Report.pdf

Share your comments, observations and suggestions at Terra Urban!

Urbanising India and Lacking Behind Governance!

In a recent article on Terraurban, you read the debate of Urban and Rural Poverty at Urban poverty: its challenges and characteristics. With decentralisation celebrating a ‘two decade anniversary’, another interesting perspective is seen in this article on Mint: Panchayati raj: Failing the urbanization test, citing example of how inadequate are the present day municipalities and corporations, that a village under the Panchayati Raj system dreads being its upgradation to a small town and thereby being under the jurisdiction of the nagar panchayat or a municipality.

Reasons given are that corporations lead to a forego of participation and autonomy of the community, corporations are difficult to deal with, corruption and bribes are synonyms with corporations, panchayat leader is more empowered to take uplifting activities and projects in the community and panchayati raj system gives a direct interface with its people that completely lack in the urban setup. Municipal corporations/municipalities/ nagar panchayats find themselves ill-equipped to deal with the pressures of urbanisation that comes with economic growth. They find that the main weakness of the decentralised urban bodies is that we don’t work on the ‘mayor system’.

As quoted in the article, a resident of a newly formed ‘nagar panchayat’ is quick to say: “It was better when we were part of the panchayat than the corporation,” Raja complains. “We had direct access to the centre of power who got things done. Now, our taxes are doubled and when we take our complaints to the councillor, he says he has no power to do anything.”

And on the other hand, one of the people’s representative- a councillor is also quoted saying: “People want quick solutions to their problems. In a corporation ward, to lay drainage, I have to get clearances from six people before this gets to the mayor for his approval,” he says. As a panchayat president—for three terms between 1996 and 2011—“I could sanction projects. I had the autonomy to make my own decisions. Development was faster. Depending on the funds available we would concentrate on one thing and execute it”
Reality of the situation is that India is urbanising and the governance has to catch up!!

Dignity by Design: Tool of Social Urbanism

This article traces the exemplar strategy of Social Urbanism in Medellin working towards and inclusive society.

By Nidhi Batra

More often than not, we associate poverty with crime, violence, hidden, the ‘other’ and the untouchable. We hope for an inclusive society but are unable to integrate the societal halves that even translate the divide in the physical realm. Resultant is swanky modern infrastructure in rich neighbourhoods and neglect in the poor – already abandoned neighbourhoods.

A walk in a poor neighbourhood, interaction with the inhabitants one realised it is not the charity that they want but rather a sense of acceptance, inclusion and dignity.

Interestingly, Medellin in Columbia, Latin America shows us an example of how an integrated planning method that unites political will, governance, civil society, architecture and design together to transform the once ‘violence and drug capital’ into a transforming inclusive society has given the fundamental human right of the poor back – Dignity! The tool Medellin employed has been popularised as ‘Social urbanism’.

Medellin’s urban development began with the management of mayors Luis Perez (2000 and 2003), Sergio Fajardo (2003-2007) and Alonso Salazar (2007-2011). The administration of Mayor Sergio Fajardo was vital to the city development with his model ‘Medellin, the most educated’. His aim was to recover the marginalized areas of the city through what he termed as “Social Urbanism”. He sought to heighten critical awareness of the injustices of traditional urban development and municipal management. Fajardo implemented projects that reflected his interest in improving the education system through new schools and libraries parks with high architectural value, symbolizing a “New Medellin” in order to show that violence can be fought by means of cultural development and social inclusion.

Social urbanism as a strategy has been designed as a comprehensive strategy that seeks solutions to mobility, governance and education together with the recovery of public space and green areas. The aim of this strategy is to recover the poorest sectors of the city that until recently, were dominated by communist groups, paramilitaries or drug smugglers.

His idea of social urbanism revolves around putting pride back into a city through architecture and design. Journalist and social commentator Ángela Sánchez described social urbanism in her report ‘Social Urbanism: the Metamorphosis of Medellín’ as “investing the greatest amount of resources, of the highest quality and aesthetic excellence, in the poorest, most violent parts of the city.”

In the words of Fajardo, the idea was “the most beautiful things for the most humble people, so that the pride felt in that which is public illuminates us all. The beauty of the architecture is essential. Where before there was death, fear and dislocation, today there are the most impressive buildings, all of the highest quality – cultural and educational focal points around which we can all come together in peaceful coexistence. In this way we are sending out a political message about the dignity of the space which is open, without exception, to all citizens, which means recognising the value of everyone, reaffirming our self-esteem and creating a feeling of belonging. Our buildings, parks and pedestrian precincts are beautiful and modern. Just as they are in any other city in the world”.

These specific plans under Social Urbanism are executed through the Integral Urban Project (PUI), the Land Use Plan (POT) and the Master Plan for Green zones. They usually make part of one or two Macro Projects or “Structuring Axis” that become catalysts to smaller public space projects and infrastructure interventions around a specific area. Both of these types of projects need to be in accordance with a larger land use plan called the POT: Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial. there are also community based planning organizations that are developing plans in accordance with the PUI- in order to compliment the PUIs and actually better, although with much smaller interventions. This type of PUI project brings together various physical initiatives: libraries, schools, transportation, public space, housing, and environmental remediation, and built them in a short period of time (two years) throughout the most economically and infrastructural marginalized areas of the city. These PUI projects involve multiple stakeholders: community, state and private partnerships.


Integral Urban Project (PUI)  in Medellin from 2004 to 2011 Source: EDU and Jota Samper

The first PUI took place in the northeast of Medellin that feature the completion of the city’s gondola system “Metro Cable” (2004) and the urban development around the metro stations, such as the Library “Reyes de España”, (Mazzanti, 2007). Currently there are running three integrated projects, the PUI of “Comuna 13” (one of the most dangerous areas of the city), the PUI of the Northwest area and, the PUI of the central eastern district.

What sets the Medellin example apart from other projects in informal areas is the shift in focus from housing solutions to essential neighbourhood infrastructure: transportation, education and public space. The project involved a series of physical interventions such as the “Metrocable” tramway that connects the residents to the formal city, and an extensive system of escalators which help residents traverse the steep topography. Yet, beyond providing a mobility infrastructure, it is the hybridization of programs within these infrastructures that is most interesting. A new library that overlooks the city not only becomes a new symbol for Medellin, but its plaza provides a leisure space that reinvents the alien nature of this new program inside the neighbourhood.


Amongst the most visible projects, some are:

  • Five enormous Library-Parks in the most deprived comunas.
  • An innovative public transport system which has dramatically reduced the distance between the old urban ghettos, with a system of cable-cars and feeders, and the consolidation of the Medellín metro, the only one in the country.
  • A large cultural centre, the legacy of the maestro of Colombian architecture, Rogelio Salmona, which stands on the site of the old rubbish dump in Moravia. Two thousand families used to live there in extreme poverty before being re-housed in better areas.
  • The Science and Technology Exploration Park with interactive educational activities and the biggest fresh and sea water aquariums in South America.
  • The exuberant Orquideorama and an enlarged botanical garden with plant species that are representative of the tropical rainforest flowering in what was once the most dangerous part of the city.
  • The recuperation of public spaces and newly pedestrianised areas like the Carabobo.
  • Ten new, modern state schools, new sport stadiums, linear parks and coliseums in preparation for the 2010 Pan-American Games.
  • The new Children’s Library located in a restored mansion and the Teatro Lido, which symbolise the new urban centre.
  • The star features are the five Library-Parks, enormous projects designed by the country’s best architects in what were labelled the poorest, most dangerous and most rundown areas of the city.


New community center and recreation plaza from: http://www.giancarlomazzanti.com/


Library and Park of Medellin © Municipality of Medellin

These new areas permit these once isolated communities to maintain open lines of communication with the state that are based on the necessary physical, human and architectural presence of the state. The new buildings and infrastructure competes in quality and style with new projects executed in any part of the city, regardless of socio-economic strata. This fact empowers the communities, which up to this moment have been approached by lower quality interventions of the state, as second-class citizens.

This might be a direction for us to give the due dignity back to the urban poor! To make an inclusive city it is essential to ‘include’ and ‘design for all’.


Social Urbanism – Architecture Rebuilds Columbia, Brenda Johnson

Pre-Emptive Versus Retroactive: The Beginnings of a Post-Informal Landscape Urbanism, Leo Robleto Costante

The Urban Transformation of Medellin, Colombia, John Drissen

Medellin: “Social Urbanism”, Adriana Navarro Sertich

Social Urbanism: The Metamorphosis of Medellín, Ángela Sánchez

“Pushing for declaration”

Shared by Transparent Chennai- an action-research group housed at the Institute for Financial Management and Research that works on neglected issues in the city

(Cross posted from the Transparent Chennai blog: www.transparentchennai.com/blog/)  

 On July 21, 2012, the Transparent Chennai team kickstarted our work on slums and informal settlements with a workshop on slum history. We had nearly 100 people attend the meeting, including members of slum-based organizations and trade unions, NGOs, researchers and academics, and students.

 The workshop was meant to be a stocktaking – we wanted to survey the entire history of programs and policies towards slums in the state and see how these policies had been implemented in the city, and the impacts they had on the urban poor. In addition to presenting the findings from our own research, we also invited slum-dwellers to share their experiences of accessing services and eviction and asked local experts for their feedback on planning regulations in the city.            

 What we found from our research was shocking to us. In the 1970s, Chennai had a fairly progressive history of policymaking towards slums. The state passed the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Act in 1971, which essentially stated that the government was only supposed to intervene in slums for the purpose of improving them (and not, for example, to move slums to make way for infrastructure as happens now!). It said that the government needed to first identify slums according to the definition given in the Act, officially recognize them or ‘declare’ them under the Act, and then improve them by adding basic services or by building better housing in-situ.

 They declared 1,202 slums in 1971, and spent the next few years building thousands of units of tenements in-situ to benefit slum-dwellers all over the city. Under the World Bank funded Madras Urban Development Programs (MUDP) and the Tamil Nadu Urban Development Programs (TNUDP), the city built thousands of “Sites-and-Services” plots in large mixed income colonies. Today, many of these original allotees have built second and third floors and are earning substantial rental incomes from their homes, providing their families with stability and helping them to permanently escape poverty.[1]

 But since then, the government has not followed the dictates of the Act. No new slums have been recognized for 27 years. But many new slums have come up as the city has grown, and the Corporation boundaries have expanded. This means that hundreds of thousands of city residents live in a limbo: they live in constant fear of eviction, and they are not eligible for any of the government programs to improve services in slums because the government does not recognize the slums they live in. This has had predictable consequences: a 2002 survey by the Slum Clearance Board in undeclared slums found dismal levels of access to water and sanitation.

 The government has also been evicting large numbers of slum-dwellers from the city to make way for new infrastructure projects and as part of city beautification projects. Our research found that at least 20,000 households were evicted from the city between 2005 and 2009 alone, and more evictions have taken place since then.

 And the government no longer builds in-situ tenements. Almost all of the money spent by the Slum Clearance Board in the last 15 years has gone towards building large-scale resettlement colonies on the outskirts of the city, where evicted residents from both declared and undeclared slums have been sent – in defiance of the guidelines for intervening in slums set down in the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Act. The money for these colonies has come from the JNNURM, despite the Mission’s stated emphasis on in-situ rehabilitation. Residents of slums who attended the workshop shared harrowing stories of evictions that took place as a result of these practices, and others described the inhumane levels of services in their neighborhoods.

 So what now?

 The individuals and groups that attended the workshop agreed that they needed to work together to push the government to declare existing slums, provide better services, and stop the practice of resettlement into far-away ghettos. The groups agreed to call the network the “Right to City Movement: Chennai for all,” and members agreed to organize events together to bring attention to the flaws in slum policies and the way they were being implemented in the state.

 We are very excited about the creation of this network, and hope that we can play a role in supporting its activities. We also believe that such an active network is important because new urban development schemes are on the table including the Rajiv Awas Yojana and the JNNURM II. As the central government plans to spend much more money for the urban poor, we are hoping that there will now be a strong voice advocating that this money be spent in ways that really improve conditions for slum-dwellers in the city.

[1] This observation comes from research we recently conducted for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation where we surveyed residents from a sites and services site in Kodungaiyur. 

Confucius said In a country well governed poverty…

Confucius said – In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of!

What do you think? What is the relation between ‘Governance’ and ‘Urban Poverty’?

Write in your comments/ experiences below! Be the ‘Voice’ on Poverty!