Slums in India

What is a slum?

  • Slum is a contiguous settlement where the inhabitants are characterized as having inadequate housing and basic services. Cities Alliance Action Plan describes slums as neglected parts of cities where housing and living conditions are appallingly poor.
  • Census of India 2011 explained slums as residential areas where dwellings areunfit for human habitation by reasons of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangements and design of such buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of street, lack of ventilation, light, or sanitation facilities or any combination of these factors which are detrimental to the safety and health
  • The slum is an inevitable part of modern urbanization and the urban poor are active agents serving the non-slum dwellers and contribute to economic growth

Slums in India- Statistics:

  • Out of 4,041 Statutory Towns in Census 2011 Slums reported from 2,543 Towns (63%)
  • Largest number of slums reported from Maharashtra (21,359)
  • People who are living in slums increased from 52 million in 2001 to 65.5 million 2011

Factors responsible for growth of slums:

  1. Demand- supply of Housing:The gap between growing demand for affordable urban housing and insufficient supply has encouraged the formation of slums. Whenever the demand surplus is not met by formal sectors, this gap is typically filled by an informal dwelling such as a slum
  2. Limited access to financial resources:slum dwellers typically inhabit marginal locations such as dumping grounds mainly due to the low purchasing power of slum dwellers in formal land markets when compared with high-income groups. Further, the urban poor lack the access to formal financial resources to help them purchase new homes or maintain a new life in a new housing unit.
  3. Rural to Urban Migration: Rural to urban migration is one of the primary drivers of growth of slums in Indian cities. Urban centres which are not equipped to support additional population, fail to cope up with high influx of people which ultimately causes several problems such as housing shortages, unemployment, and development of slums.
  4. Poor Urban governance: A major factor for growth of slums use of rigid, often outdated urban planning regulations, which are typically bypassed by slum dwellers to meet their housing needs. Another issue is the failure of governments to incorporate slum dwellers as part of the overall planning process.This is often due to the inability of many governments to keep pace with urbanization because of ill-designed policies, lack of resources and corruption.

Problems faced by slum dwellers:

1.Lack of basic services/ amenities: The slums are characterised by lack of access to sanitation facilities and safe water sources, absence of waste collection systems, electricity supply, drainage. These are sometimes supplemented by lack of surfaced roads and footpaths and street lighting. According to Census 2011, among the slums in India-

  • 58% have open or no drainage
  • 43% must bring water from outside their communities
  • 26% do not have access to clean drinking water
  • 34% have no latrine within premises; 19% open defecate
  • 2 electricity outages occur per day

2.Substandard housing:Slum areas are associated with a high number of substandard housing structures, often built with non-permanent materials unsuitable for housing and in dilapidated conditions.

3.Overcrowding:Overcrowding is associated with a low space per person, high occupancy rates, cohabitation by different families. Many slum dwelling units are overcrowded, with a large number of people sharing a one-room unit used for cooking, sleeping and living.

4.Unhealthy living conditions and hazardous locations:Unhealthy living conditions are the result of a lack of basic services, open sewers, lack of pathways, uncontrolled dumping of waste, polluted environments, etc. Further, slums come up in hazardous locations such as in proximity to industrial plants with toxic emissions or waste disposal sites.

5.Perpetuating cycle of Poverty: Low income and poverty is both cause and to large extent consequence of slum conditions.Slum conditions create barriers to human and social development. Low income characteristically means poor nutrition, elementary or no education, little or no medical care which undermines human capital development and slum dwellers are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

6.Social problems:Slums are areas of social exclusion that are often perceived to have high levels of crime. Gender discrimination and violence towards women and children, substance abuse are rampant phenomena in slum areas.

7.Health: Since slums are not connected to basic services such as clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, residents are at great risk of contracting water-borne and respiratory diseases. High population density, lack of proper toilets and close proximity of homes allow diseases to spread quickly.

Steps taken:

  1. National Slum Development Programme (NSDP): Initiated in 1996, NSDP provided both loans and subsidies to states for slum rehabilitation projects on the basis of their urban slum population.
  2. Valmiki Ambedkar Malina Basti Awas Yozana (VAMBAY):  Introduced in 2001, it focused on shelter for the urban poor, with 20% of total allocation for community sanitation facilities under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) program
  3. Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUP): BSUP was an important component of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). BSUP aimed to provide basic services to urban poor in 63 of the largest cities in India by population
  4. Integrated Housing & Slum Development Programme (IHSDP): Integrated Housing & Slum Development Programme (IHSDP) was launched by GoI by merging the schemes of NSDP and VAMBAY. The objective of the scheme is to provide adequate Shelter and basic infrastructure facilities to the slum dwellers in urban areas.
  5. Interest Subsidy Scheme for Housing the Urban Poor (ISHUP): The Scheme envisages the provision of interest subsidy to economically weak section and Low income groups to enable them to buy or construct houses.
  6. Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY): Launched in 2013, the scheme focussed on:
  • Bringing existing slums within the formal system and enabling them to avail of the same level of basic amenities as the rest of the town;
  • Redressing the failures of the formal system that lie behind the creation of slums; and
  • Tackling the shortages of urban land and housing that keep shelter out of reach of the urban poor.
  1. Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana- “Housing for All (Urban): Launched in 2015, the scheme seeks to provide central assistance to implementing agencies through States and UTs for providing houses to all beneficiaries by 2022. It incorporates the following:
  • “In-situ” slum rehabilitationwith participation of private developers using land as a resource. This approach aims to leverage the locked potential of land under slums to provide houses to the eligible slum dwellers bringing them into the formal urban settlement.
  • Promotion of Affordable Housing for weaker section through credit linked subsidy
  • Affordable Housing in Partnership with Public & Private Sectors
  • Subsidy for beneficiary-led individual house construction/enhancement
Slum areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, in the year 1956: The act aimed at mechanical improvement or complete eradication of slums. It empowers the competent authority to declare any slum area in accordance with the definition, look into possibilities of improvement or eradicate slums.



  1. Questions over slum-land ownership:In the absence of systematic land records, non-transparent deals and ownership conflicts between land-owning departments, assessing land ownership is difficult. This in turn delays and hinders implementation of slum rehabilitation schemes.
  2. Inadequate formal housing:PMAY aims at housing for all by 2022 mission, but the rate at which informal housing is being destroyed far exceeds the rate at which formal housing is being constructed.
  3. Illegal subletting: At many instances, after slum dwellers are provided with free housing and full ownership rights, the free redeveloped units are illegally subleased. In the long run, this is counterproductive to the goal of creating slum free cities.
  4. Lack of coherent policy: India lacks a comprehensive policy which define slums or define the desired end-state of slums or what encompasses “slum-free” city.
  5. Environmental sustainability: There are concerns about adding additional housing on an already over-constrained municipal system. Without investing in adding capacity to existing civic infrastructure for the city, such policies could put undue burden on the city’s civic amenities such as water and electricity.

Way Forward:

  1. The focus should not only on building houses for the slum dwellers but also promoting livelihood options and social and economic infrastructure to develop the livelihood.
  2. For effective urban planning, housing and population policies based on housing rights and the right to a clean environment must be established at all levels. These policies should be directed at inclusive cities and poverty alleviation
  3. Attention must be paid to income generation, transport and empowerment of the beneficiaries to redress possible future problems
  4. A three-pronged approach to Slum Free city should be adopted:
  • Provision of clear, free title to the residents, so that they enjoy the privileges of using property as a tangible asset
  • To upgrade the infrastructure and services providing water, power, and sewage connections to individual homes, the collection of solid waste, street lighting and neighbourhood security and police support
  • The creation of high-density, low income zoning that allows individual property owners to upgrade their homes without risk, rent out their properties to formal commercial establishments
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