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A LOOK AT SLUM PROBLEMS

The constitutional machinery in Bihar is sheer failure.Here are some


solutions to bring derailed Bihar on track

The picture that conjures up in our minds, when we talk about slums, is that
of a dirty, unhygienic cluster of impoverished shanties with long lines of
people crowding around a solitary municipal water tap, bowling babies
literally left on street corners to fend for themselves and endless cries and
found voices emanating from various corners. Most of them are engaged in
eking out their daily lives, always below the poverty line, by working as construction
labourers, domestic helps, rag pickers and chhotus in neighbourhood dhabas. Though
their living conditions are utterly unhygienic, gloomy, dismal and dehumanized, many of
them still dream of improving the quality of their lives.

The majority of slum dwellers identify themselves with the city rather than with their
native place and plan to settle permanently in the city. In spite of poor conditions in
slums, second generation residents who are not nostalgic about their rural background -
feel that life in slum is reasonably tolerable and city life is probably better than rural life.

They greatly value improving their working situation through getting a better job, yet
have low aspirations and have an optimistic view of their chances of improving their
socio-economic status.

Many of the younger generation, irrespective of gender, income level and educational
attainment express their regard for education and foresee upward social mobility for their
children by educating their offspring as much as possible.

Our slums are indeed very dingy, dark and dismal. But the dark clouds are now fading.
Despite the inaction of civic authorities, and despite the efforts of politicians and slum
mafia to keep slum dwellers to remain docile, there are definite signs of younger slum
dwellers to improve the quality of their lives. Silver linings are now becoming visible.

Plentiful of these was available in rural areas. They were encouraged to come to cities
and work. People, who migrated to the cities and found work, brought their cousins and
rest of the families to the cities. Unable to find housing and afford it, they decided to
build their shelter closer to work. Thousands of shelters were built for the migrating
labourers. Conniving governments provided electricity and drinking water. Politicians
looked at the slums as vote bank. They organized these unauthorized dwellers into a
political force; hence slums took a bit of a permanent shape. More slums developed as
more population moved to the cities. By mid sixties Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, and all
other large cities were dotted with slums.

Recent years have seen a dramatic growth in the number of slums as urban populations
have increased in the Third World. According to a recent UN-Habitat report, 327 million
people live in slums in Commonwealth countries almost one in six
Commonwealth citizens. In a quarter of Commonwealth countries (11
African, 2 Asian and 1 Pacific), more than two out of three urban dwellers
live in slums, and many of these countries are urbanizing rapidly.

Why ???

Slums are the products of failed policies, bad governance, corruption, inappropriate
regulations, dysfunctional land markets, unresponsive financial systems and a
fundamental lack of political will.

Each of these failures adds to the toll of people already deeply burdened with poverty.
This frustrates the enormous potential for human development that opportunities in urban
life offer.

Urbanisation has created a number of problems like shortage of dwelling units,


mushrooming growth of jhuggis, encroachment of public land and expansion of
unauthorized residential colonies. The rapid growth of urbanization is creating a number
of problems. Whenever a big project is commenced, a lot of workers migrate to towns in
quest of employment. With no proper place to live, they usually encroach public land and
the sites earmarked for various developmental projects. This causes expansion of jhuggis
and unauthorized colonies.Thus building enormous pressure on civic services and
creating major bottlenecks in the proper development of cities.

Problems

People residing in slums face many problems like improper sanitation, unhygienic
environmental conditions, social, economic, health, educational and cultural problems
and many more. The basic problems inherent in slums are Health hazards

Lack of basic amenities like safe drinking water, proper housing, drainage and excreta
disposal services, make slum population vulnerable to infections. These further
compromise the nutrition requirements of those living in slums.

It is projected that more than half of the Indian population will live in urban areas by
2020 and nearly one third of this urban population will be slum dwellers. The ongoing
process of rapid urbanization has deleterious repercussions on health and nutrition,
especially for children. Malnutrition in young children has long-term negative effects on
physical and cognitive development. The major causes of childhood malnutrition in slum
population are inappropriate child feeding practices, infections, improper food security
and suboptimal childcare besides poor availability and inadequate utilization of health
care services. Addressing nutritional problems of urban poor is essential for overall
development of the country.

Lack of sanitary conditions


Poor sanitary conditions and poor quality of water lead to illnesses like
diarrhoea and other water borne diseases, affecting the life expectancy of
slum dwellers. According to a recent case study, water and sanitation
diseases are responsible for 60 per cent of environmental health. Among water borne
diseases, diarrhoea disproportionately affects children under the age of five. Poor health
among children adversely affects the attendance rate at schools.

In dense, overcrowded urban conditions it is often difficult for people to find space to
build latrines. Many have to defecate in the open or share whatever limited facilities are
available which tend to offer no privacy, safety or hygiene.

Because of human waste and refuse collecting in stagnant pools spread disease and
contaminate water sources. The problem is made worse during the rainy season when
rubbish and excrement are washed into cramped living areas.

In these conditions it is virtually impossible to remain healthy and clean. Diseases spread
rapidly among the crowded conditions and the little money that slum dwellers earn often
has to be spent on medicines to help the sick recover.

Often these settlements are unofficial and so, without any legal tenure, the people living
there are not entitled to get connections to basic facilities like water and sanitation. These
settlements are also vulnerable to demolition as governments reclaim the illegally
occupied land for other usages.

Social problems

The slum environment is the perfect breeding ground for a wide range of social problems.
High unemployment often causes men to stay around the home growing increasingly
frustrated with their pathetic situation and the worsening poverty.

Cramped conditions mean that there is nowhere to go when tensions rise, a factor that
regularly leads to domestic violence. Sometimes the situation goes to the other extreme,
where people abandon their homes, lured by the prospect of oblivion through alcohol or
drug abuse. Once people develop such problems the prospects of finding work diminish.
They fall deeper into poverty and the cycle continues.

Child labour

Many children in the slums start work at a very early age with no prospect of getting any
education. They make money by rag picking (trawling through rubbish dumps to retrieve
anything that can be sold), selling newspapers in traffic jams, peddling drugs or begging.
They are at risk of exploitation as well as all the health problems that accompany their
lifestyles. Incest and abuse can occur and child marriages are still encouraged in some
areas.

Internal and external corruption


Some people manage to achieve a high status within slums and establish
themselves as slumlords. They are often allies of certain politicians and gain
control of sizeable chunks of the community land. By renting out the land,
they make huge financial gains while everyone living in the slum struggles to
survive on their meager earnings. The slumlords form elaborate links with
local politicians, government officials and the police, and slum dwellers
become dependent on them for the smallest of amenities. They have little
empathy with the slum residents and exploit them by charging highly
inflated prices for illegal electricity and water supplies or for constructing
huts.

The men do not like to see the women becoming more powerful through forming
women's groups as one of their main concerns is keeping the slum dwellers helpless and
under their control.

The sheer volume of people living in slums causes them to be obvious targets for
politicians wanting to increase their percentage of the vote. Slum inhabitants are often
promised all kinds of support and improvements in return for political allegiance, but
their trust is regularly abused.

Gender Inequality

Female babies in the slums of India can face discrimination and poor treatment from their
very first moments, if they are given a chance of life at all; although gender specific
abortion is illegal in India, it is still practiced in some places.

Male children are seen as a blessing and indulged in many areas of Indian society.
Children born into the deprived and harsh environment of the slums may not be as
fortunate, but male babies are still given better treatment than the girls. Boys tend to be
healthier as they are given better food in greater quantities, and they are also more likely
to be sent to school.

In contrast, girls are seen as a drain on precious resources as they will one day get
married and their contribution towards the family will end. To make up for this, they are
forced to work from an early age and any ambitions regarding schooling or future careers
are discouraged.

With that kind of start in life, it's difficult for women within the slums to find a voice.
They are used to getting little support from their embers and are not usually considered
worth consulting on family matters.

The sheer volume of people living in slums causes them to be obvious targets for
politicians wanting to increase their percentage of the vote.

Solutions
Problems of the slum can be dealt by little initiative taken by the
government, NGOs and employers. Some of the possible solutions can be
Countries need to recognize that the urban poor are active agents and can
contribute to national growth.

Local authorities and national governments should collaborate with the organizations of
the urban poor in upgrading slums and providing alternatives to slum formation.
Whenever a worker migrates to a city for work his employer must ensure that he is
provided with appropriate accommodation. This should be the responsibility of all big
and small employers.

Managing cities require local solutions. Local authorities need to be empowered with
financial and human resources to deliver services and infrastructure to the urban poor.
Cities should draw up local long-term strategies for improving the lives of slum dwellers.

Local governments should develop strategies to prevent the formation of new slums.
These should include access to affordable land, reasonably priced materials, employment
opportunities, and basic infrastructure and social services.

Public investments must focus on providing access to basic services and


infrastructureWorking with the urban poor, cities need to invest in housing, water,
sanitation, energy, and urban services, such as garbage disposal. These services and
infrastructure must reach the poor living in informal settlements.

Role of the government and the NGOs. In a usual scenario a migrated laborer secures
a job with security agencies, waste management service providers, contractors,
householders etc. They usually employ slum dwellers as rag pickers, sweepers,
construction labors, masons, carpenters, domestic helps etc. For such migrating labors
there should be a centralized labor registration center where they can register
themselves and secure their labor ID number. These centers should have direct contact
with prospective employers and they should try to find suitable jobs for these workers
according to their skills. These migrated labors should also be allotted dwelling units and
the accommodation expenses should be borne by their respective employers. The
dwelling units should be located on the outskirts of the town and transport facilities
should be made available to the workers in order to make commutation easy for them.
Locating proper dwelling units on the outskirts would minimize the proliferation of dingy
slums in the city. Along with these arrangements certain regulations should be made by
the government:

• A minimum wage rate should be created for workers immigrating to town.

• Computerized ID numbers should be allotted to the laborers for maintaining


records.

• ESI dispensaries and counseling services should be provided in dwelling areas.


All labors should be centrally registered
• Strict rules should be formulated to prevent the misuse of funds.

• Aim for 1 Lakh units of construction every six months.

• Import high volume construction machinery from China for the speedy
construction.

• Factories with a workforce of more than 100 labors should have compulsory
dwelling units. The accommodation facilities should be made available before the
commencement of any project

NGOs can play a vital role in improving the existing conditions of slums. NGOs should
work for the underprivileged in the slums. NGOs should work in close coordination with
government and make sure that the following facilities are available to the slum dwellers:

• Counselling services to minimize crime and other problems.

• Basic amenities like schooling, proper sanitation, potable water, health facilities
and common electricity with minimal charges.

• Free weekly medical and healthcare facilities.

Manifestation of income and other gaps in health, education, skills, etc. can be seen in
slums and squatter settlements of most urban areas in developing countries. Slums are not
'problems' that have to be 'solved' - but are indeed results of lopsided and vested urban
policies covering land ownership, infrastructure provision and maintenance, and other
socio-economic issues. And for the poor, they represent a solution. The need of the hour
is to find light in the darkest of the dark scenario and infuse life in the lives that are still
waiting for the silver lining.

Fading dark clouds

Poverty, slums and urban squat can be controlled in next couple of decades. Reversal of
this phenomenon will begin after sufficient economic progress had been made. Eight
percent GDP growths is a good sign. With quadrupled GDP in 25 years, there is a good
chance that the new and upcoming generation may stay away from slum dwelling. It may
take another 25 years before the slums are vacated.

Silver lining
The problems prevailing in slums give us the challenge to rebuild a society that is more
equitable where equal opportunities could be provided to all for living with dignity. Many
hurdles have to be overcome to achieve this objective.

The despair of the underprivileged has to be replaced with hope, their fear with security,
and their ignorance with knowledge. Give them the opportunity to secure good health,
immunity from curable diseases, employment opportunities, sufficient and nutritious
food, clean water and a clean environment, capability to protect their children against
exploitation and discrimination. Their children should have the right to get adequate
education for becoming responsible citizens of India.

Slum dwellers should be empowered to enable them to improve the quality of their own
lives