Rapid urbanisation: Where do urban poor stand?

Delhi is the sixth-largest metropolis in the world. And yet, a third of its residences are part of slums with no basic resources 


Urbanisation in India has become an inescapable ordeal. With development of the services sector, the population pressure on cities has escalated.

Cities face the adverse outcomes of rapid urbanisation such as overpopulation, acute shortage of housing and basic amenities, environment pollution, unemployment and social unrest. The model of building a developed city comprises unplanned development, which only bolsters the dichotomy prevailing in urban cities between the rich and the poor.

India has a population of 65.49 million people living in 13.7 million slum households across the country. As much as 65 per cent of Indian cities have adjoining slums where people live in small houses adjacent to each other.

Delhi slums are known to be the filthiest among all metropolitan cities in the country. A survey conducted in Delhi under the 69th National Service Scheme round (July 2012-December 2012) revealed that the capital had approximately 6,343 slums with more than a million households where 52 per cent of its total population resided.

We are also in the middle of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which has only exacerbated the misery of those living in such spaces.

The plight of the urban poor in Delhi

Delhi is the sixth-largest metropolis in the world. And yet, a third of its residences are part of the slums with no basic resources. The city has grown haphazardly without any proper planning by the government authorities.

More than half of the city’s population lives in slums that do not provide the most basic necessities. Dirty stagnant water, clogged drains, narrow lanes, cramped houses and heaps of garbage are among the few characteristics of slums in the national capital. Sanitary installments are poor and water supply irregular.

Financial insecurity: Nearly 81 per cent of India’s population works in the informal sector. The sudden implementation of complete lockdown on March 25, 2020 has severely affected the ability of slum dwellers to earn their living.

A majority of households reported that they would starve to death if lockdowns were to continue for a longer time, according to a 2020 survey.

After the shutdown of all economic activities, Delhi witnessed a wave of reverse migration, when thousands of migrant workers headed back to their home towns, many of them on foot. Nearly 70 per cent slum dwellers reported loss of employment; 12 per cent pending dues from previous months; 10 per cent reduction of wages and 8 per cent other effects.

Unveiling existing inequalities: The COVID-19 pandemic has now torn open the tapestry to reveal the ugly mess inside the slums. Washing hands and observing physical distancing was impossible to follow in slums.

Nearly 21.8 per cent of slum households in Delhi depend on shared water sources such as public taps.

What has been done

The central government initiated cash transfers and food security programmes as part of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana scheme. The Delhi government initiated a cash transfer of Rs 5,000 to provide additional support to marginalised people working as auto-rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers as well as widows, differently abled and elderly persons.

Above-poverty-line card holders were provided 50 per cent more quantity of ration, below-poverty-line cardholders 7.5 kilograms ration per person. Families without ration cards could avail themselves of 5 kg of ration per person after applying for a temporary ration card.

It was, however, observed that only 66 per cent households in the slums of Delhi had ration cards.

Need for potential policy measures

These benefits reached only a small part of the intended beneficiaries. Most relief funds and benefits do not reach slum dwellers, mainly because these settlements are not officially recognised by the government.

An absence of proper social security measures in India has come to the fore and has a huge impact on our ability to fight against the virus. Thus, new approaches to urban planning and effective governance are the need of the hour.

Following are the few protective measures that should be implemented by the administration in order to provide security to the slum dwellers:

  • Accelerating efficiency of welfare and relief schemes
  • Ensuring access to free vaccines, food security and adequate shelter  in the slums
  • Improving sanitation and transportation facilities in slums
  • Establishing clinics and healthcare facilities
  • Aiding non-profits and local support bodies who have better reach to these marginalised communities

Necessary actions should be taken to build sustainable, robust and inclusive infrastructure. Instead of a top-down approach, we need to adopt a bottom-up approach to better understand unique challenges faced by the urban poor.

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