New Delhi, March 22: India’s slum dwellers may not be turning millionaires but living standards seem to be improving in the poorest urban neighbourhoods, causing many of them to shed the tag of “slum” in census reports.
The proportion of slum dwellers has fallen by over 36 per cent between 2001 and 2011, says a report released yesterday by the census commissioner’s office.
The 2001 census found 27.5 per cent of India’s urban population in slums but by 2011, the report says, the figure had fallen to 17.4 per cent — 1.37 crore out of a total urban population of 7.89 crore.
Bengal (21.9 per cent), however, is fourth among states with the highest proportion of slum dwellers in their urban population, behind Andhra Pradesh (35.7), Madhya Pradesh (28.3) and Maharashtra (22.7). The figure for Calcutta is 29.6 per cent. At 1.5 per cent, Kerala is closest to being “slum free”.
Census authorities define a slum as a residential area where the dwellings are “unfit for human habitation” for reasons of “dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design of buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of streets, and lack of ventilation, light, sanitation facilities”.
The 2011 census found slums in only 2,543 of India’s 4,041 towns and cities. Till 2001, the census report only cited the percentage of urban populations living in slums but yesterday’s report on “housing stock, amenities and assets” in slums also details the living conditions.
“This is the first time a census report is doing so,” the registrar-general of India, C. Chandramouli, said.
The report shows that, at least on paper, “there is a stark similarity between amenities and assets” in slum and non-slum urban areas, housing and poverty alleviation secretary Arun Kumar Mishra said.
“Tap water supply is higher in slum areas,” he said. One reason may be that many homes in upscale and suburban areas pump their own underground water.
“If slums are wanting in any respect, it is sanitation. We will work on it,” Mishra said.
Nearly a fifth of slum dwellers lack bathing facilities on their premises and a third have to go outside to relieve themselves.
Of slum dwellings, 70.2 per cent are owned by the occupants and 26 per cent are rented tenements, the latter figure reflecting how “slum lords control a sizeable number of houses”, Chandramouli said.
The report comes at a time the housing ministry is working on the Rajiv Awas Yojana, which seeks to upgrade housing in slums.
“For long, urban slums have been ignored as a large share of the budget was pumped into rural India,” housing minister Ajay Maken said. He said it was not possible to replace slum dwellings with “swanky houses” overnight.
“This is a slow process and we are working on a slum upgrade index for regular monitoring. The index will be like a stencil of what public amenities a slum should necessarily have,” Maken said.