Open Spring of Ideas List

Good Living Conditions In Slums

India is growing economically growing very rapidly. As I have described in my Next Sixty Years (see this website under Articles) this cataclysmic rapid growth will continue for next 10-15 years. Not that India will not grow faster in later years. The key word is that next 10 - 15 years the growth will be cataclysmic (I have described the reasons in the article cited before, hence I am not repeating them).

As most of us complain, while we enjoy the benefits of growth we are bewildered by the number of unexpected happenings; uncertainties etc. Bad traffic jams; water shortage; power cuts; sudden surge of prices of food items and later subsiding; suddenly a new investment opportunity comes, you miss it; your neighbour did not and you feel bad about it (it may be an IPO, purchase of a flat or a land ... many more such items). That is cataclysmic growth. Many big names in industry or business, you hear may disappear, brand new one may come and grow; some foreign companies may take over Indian businesses; some new policy (e.g. agricultural reforms or liberalisation of educational sector or allowing foreign companies to set up Nuclear Power Plants in India) may unleash a new frenzy of growth! and so on.

But what is it to do with slums? will be your question. A lot. Under the regime of socialist and planned economy which our country had till 1991, even while the country grow with some reasonable agricultural and industrial infrastructure and public delivery system (railways, posts, education, health etc), slums in cities and towns grew at an unprecedented pace.

Our assumptions that establishment of big public sector industries or other industrial clusters or big education institutions, will lead to alround growth around these cities and towns are continuously belied. Kanpur which had about 30% slums at the time of independence is about 70% slums now ! It has one of the prestigious IIT for the past 40 years. No silicon valley developed. It is not the fault of IIT, Kanpur. We never built an ecosystem for innovative industries…..

New Delhi has many slums, even near the posh areas. But they are 'beautifully' hidden by big walls so that the VIP's in Delhi do not have to see the squalor there. Of course many open slums are all over the railway track when we leave New Delhi station towards Chandigarh or other places. (I have a painful poem on that whole series of these slums and their conditions in Jumping Genes under the title 'Train Journey'. Even Gurgaon a great modern Indian creation of multistoreyed wonder, is developing its own slums.

Why have I written so much about these? Just to tell and emphasize a point that these slums cannot be wished for at least two decades. As economic opportunities grow whether in a small town or city (Tier-1, Tier-2, Tier-3, Tier-4), a number of poor people flock in search of incomes. Notwithstanding all the hype about agriculture, it cannot sustain 60% of work force.

Hence slums will continue to grow. What is the solution ?

Let us not be hypocritical about it and increase human misery. Today slum dwellers are moved from place to place in the name of slum clearance. Any way the slums don't come by themselves. Persons with high level political and bureaucratic connections use large chunks of their unused lands to 'allow' poor persons to put some shanty slums. In gurgaon they pay about Rs.300/- p.m. to such persons and stay. When they are thrown out, they take their meager possession to move to another place identified.

Let us make for all future cities as a part of master plan, some selected places, spread out all over the city specially marked for SLUMS. Let there some access of water, drainage and electricity. Spread out because those who live in slum are the domestic servants, and providers of various other services at a low cost. They cannot be struggling to catch a bus or train.

Either govt. should allot (which it can't do well) or leave these to the existing 'system'. But one assurance is that they will not be moved around.

When this stability comes some organised efforts by the civic society can help these persons with Education, Health etc. Also stability will bring affordable market forces to help the persons live better.

In the existing SLUMS let the civic society especially those who have some public standing, start a movement of helping them with hygiene, education, skills etc as SIRUTHULI movement in COIMBATORE helped resurrect many lakes and water bodies.

Let persons in each town, city start this as a movement. Many NGOs work, but scattered.

Will India Business take it up as a part of the CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY ?

Y.S.Rajan
22/03/08