The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Numbers drop in slums, costs rise

It’s strange, but true. In Calcutta, there’s been a slump in the number of slum-dwellers, but not in the number of slums or in the investment towards their development. Civic records say the number of slum-dwellers has dropped by a remarkable 34.53 per cent over the past 10 years, which should translate into a savings of Rs 800 crore by way of slum development. In reality, however, the investment is rising every year.

According to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) Yearbook, 1991-92 & 1992-93, the number of slum-dwellers stood at 23.26 lakh. The figure includes a three-lakh refugee population.

A survey, conducted recently by mayor-in-council (slum development) member Pradip Ghosh and released on Friday, officially declares the number of slum-dwellers as 15.23 lakh, an astonishing decline of 34.53 per cent.

The per capita annual investment on slums has been raised from Rs 150 in 1974 to Rs 1,000 now, the decrease in the number of slum-dwellers should have effected a total savings of Rs 800 crore in 10 years to the civic and government exchequers. On the contrary, the CMC’s allocation goes up by more than Rs 5 crore every year. In 2001-2002, the allocation was Rs 13.74 crore. It rose to Rs 18 crore in 2002-2003, and stands at Rs 23.08 crore in 2003-2004.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee proferred an explanation: “Slums are Lakshmi (goddess of fortune) for our political leaders. They inevitably present a hypothetical and inflated figure with an aim to grab more grants and aid from different agencies.”

Inflated figures also help dishonest officials siphon off funds by submitting false accounts, pointed out a retired officer of the civic accounts department.

That, logically, is the reason why after a combined investment of Rs 6,978 crore over the past 30 years by the CMC, CMDA and the state and Central governments, the city’s slums remain what they were.

There have been cosmetic changes, though. The alleys have been paved, streets have been lit, there are doors to the privies and tubewells have been installed for drinking water.

Council member Ghosh said 4,000 bighas of prime land in the city are blocked by slums. Some of these are on Judge’s Court Road, Gariahat Road, Alipore, Bhowanipore, Sealdah, Ashutosh Mukherjee Road, Kalighat, Narkeldanga and Kidderpore. “I think we should construct highrises on the land to rehabilitate the slum-dwellers, rather than pour money into maintenance of their shanties,” he added.

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