Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas

Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas

This article Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas covers important dimensions retated to slums and urban population with a deep analysis.

The definition of the term ‘slum’ includes the traditional meaning – that is, housing areas that were once respectable or even desirable, but which have since deteriorated as the original dwellers have moved to new and better areas of the cities. The condition of the old houses has then declined, and the units have been progressively subdivided and rented out to lowerincome groups. Typical examples are the inner-city slums of many towns and cities in both the
developed and the developing countries.

Slums have, however, also come to include the vast informal settlements that are quickly becoming the most visible expression of urban poverty in developing world cities, including squatter settlements and illegal subdivisions. The quality of dwellings in such settlements varies from the simplest shack to permanent structures, while access to water, electricity, sanitation and other basic services and infrastructure is usually limited. Such settlements are referred to by a wide range of names and include a variety of tenure arrangements.

Although the term ‘slum’ is considered an easily understandable catch-all, it disguises the fact that within this and other terms lay a multitude of different settlements and communities.

  1. However, slums can be divided into two broad classes: Slums of hope: ‘progressing’ settlements, which are characterized by new, normally selfbuilt structures, usually illegal (eg. squatters) that are in, or have recently been through, a process of development, consolidation and improvement; and
  2. Slums of despair: ‘declining’ neighbourhoods, in which environmental conditions and domestic services are undergoing a process of degeneration.

The operational definition of slums

The operational definition of a slum that has been recently recommended (by a United Nations Expert Group Meeting (EGM) held in Nairobi from 28 to 30 October 2002) for future international usage defines a slum as an area that combines, to various extents, the following characteristics (restricted to the physical and legal characteristics of the settlement, and excluding the more difficult social dimensions):

  • inadequate access to safe water;
  • inadequate access to sanitation and other infra- structure;
  • poor structural quality of housing;
  • overcrowding;
  • insecure residential status.

The Indian census defines a slum as “residential areas where dwellings are unfit for human habitation” because they are dilapidated, cramped, poorly ventilated, unclean, or “any combination of these factors which are detrimental to the safety and health”. It is an area where people live in highly congested conditions without any basic amenity of life. It is a place where the worst form of struggle for the basic needs of life is on. The slums are result of complex socio – economic dynamics but poverty is the foremost factors responsible for it. Low – income forces people to live in slum. This paper presents a sociological analysis of the urban problem in slums, especially focusing on the nature and characteristics of the slum.

The characteristics of the slum has been presented under various subheadings like housing condition, overcrowding and congestion, poor sanitation and health, apathy and social isolation, deviant behavior and the culture of the slums, that is, a way of life. In brief, this paper also tries to understand various functions of the slum. It meets various needs of its residents and performs served useful functions for certain social groups like poor and migrants workers. The most prominent ones discussed here are the traditional welfarist approach, the developmental approach, the Marxist or socialist approach and humanitarian approach.

The slums constitute the most important and persistent problem of urban life. They are often considered to be the sources of crime and delinquency, of illness and death from diseases. Slums are of all shapes, types and forms. Mumbai has its packed multistoried chawls, New York. Its Harlem and its east side Chicago – is black belt, London – its east end. Families in Bangkok crowd together in ‘Pile village’ composed of poorly constructed wooden shacks, bamboo hubs and straw hovels along the small lanes of Kolkata, Dacca and Lagos, which stream with high humidity and stink from open drains. Impoverished shantytown or squatter shacks constructed from junks cover the hillside of Rio de Janeiro, Lima, Hong Kong and other Asian, Africa and South American cities. Even the most affluent nation in the world have slums. At least one fifth of urban population of US lives in poor or sub standard housing. Like US, other capitalist nations of the world have slums.

For instance, in Mumbai where perhaps some of the worst slums in the world can be found the skyline is getting changed by an eruption of skyscrapers of the most modern dimension, accommodating airline companies, five star hotels, officers of multinationals and affluent few metropolis.


Slum is always referred to an area. The term housing conditions refers to actual living conditions rather than mere physical appearance of the area. The substandard is to be taken not in an objective or technological but rather in a relative social sense i.e., compared with the recognized standard at a given time in a specific country. Slum word has a long association with negative connotation. It has been almost an epithet, implying evil, strange and something to be shunned and avoided. It is being apparently derived from slumber as slum were once thought by majority to be unknown, back streets presumed to be sleepy and quite.

The slum is a complex result of many products as it is true of many other social phenonmena. But poverty is the foremost one, interplay of objective economic facts and subjective group standard. Low income forces people to live in slums. Slum resident are negligent and so not mind dirt. They have neither money nor the time to keep themselves clean or their area. Lack of basic infrastructure like drains, drinking water, electricity and location gives the slums a very ungraceful picture.

The three main types of slums are

  1. The first type is original slum. It is an area which from the very beginning constituted of unsuitable buildings; these sections are beyond recovery need to be razed. The example of this type is the Mexican slum in Wichita.
  2. The second type consists of slums created by the departure of the middle class families to other sections and subsequent deterioration of the area. The example of this type is south End slum in Boston.
  3. The third type is the most unpleasant type of slum. It is mainly a phenomenon of transition. Once the area around a main business district becomes blighted, physical and social deterioration spreads rapidly. This kind of slum teams with accommodation for the destitute, home of prostitution, beggars, homeless men, habitual criminals, chronic alcoholics etc. This type of slum requires measures of rehabilitations.


[Read This Article]


The pattern of urbanization in India has been marked by regional and interstate diversities, large scale rural to urban migration, insufficient infrastructural facilities, growth of slums and other allied problems. One of the major problem of growing urbansiation and inequality in urban areas result in slums. Thus is acute shortage of housing in urban areas and of the available accommodation is of sub-standard variety. This problem has tended to worsen over
year due to rapid increase in population, fast rate of urbanization and proportionately inadequate addition to the housing stock. Millions of people pay excessive rent which is beyond their means. In our profit –oriented economy, private developers and colonizers find little profit in building houses in cities for the poor and the lower middle class, and they concentrate in meeting the housing needs of the rich as it is gainful.

With large scale migrations to urban areas to urban areas many find that the only option they have is substandard conditions of slums. Slums are characterized by substandard housing, overcrowding, lack of electrification, ventilation, sanitation, roads and drinking water facilities. They have been the breeding ground of diseases, environmental pollution, demoralization and many social tensions.

Rapid growth of urban population and low investment in urban development have created serious shelter problem and deficiencies in basic amenities in the towns and cities of the country resulting in growth in slum population.

These deficiencies are more serious for urban poor due to inequality in the access to these amenities (Kundu 2002). The information available from the national sample survey in its various rounds, pertaining to slum conditions, access to housing and other amenities, provides interesting insight into the interdependences between poverty and quality of life. This can be analyzed to understand the dynamics of development of slums and the nature of venerability of the population importantly, NSS for the first time in 1993 in its 49th round provided information on the quality of housing and availability of basic amenities by canvassing a uniform definition of slums in 21 states and union territories.

An analysis of NSS data reveals that about 15% of the urban households reside in slums areas. The slums, however, constitute an extremely heterogeneous category. The physical structure can be described as kuccha in case of 35% slums ‘while for another 34 percent, it would be pucca. This implies that more than thirty percent of the slums have predominantly pucca structures. Moreover 87 percent of the pucca slums has access to tap water. For semi-pucca slums, the figure is 73 percent while for kuccha slums it works out around 30 only. Tap water is available to 65% of the slum population while for average urban dwellers, the figure is marginally higher viz. 70%. The real difference between the slum and the non-slum areas, however, emerges in terms of nature of access to the facility. About 64 percent of the households in slums have taps only on the, community level while for non – slum households, this problem exists only for 25% (Kundu 2003).

The situation is far more serious with regard to sanitation. The percentage of urban households here report not having any toilet facility in 1993 works out to be about 31 which is much higher than figure for drinking water.

The other major problem in the slums is that of drainage. Since about 52% of the households here report having either kuccha open system or total absence of drainage facility water logging in rainy season occurs for as many as sixty percent of the slums this problem is faced in nonslum areas as well but the percentage figure is less.

Improvements in case of water supply facilities have been reported in about 50 % slums while the figure for road is 42%, as per the data from the 49th round of NSS. For drainage and garbage disposal, improvements are noted in about 30% slums.

In case of the slums reporting improvement work in roads, water supply, drainage and garbage disposal facilities during the five years, more than ninety percent are those where these activities have been undertaken by government agencies. This reflects the insignificant role played by private sector and NGO’s in slum improvement. The important role played by the local bodies is evident from the fact that while 35 % of the slums have no provision of the garbage disposal, 80% of the remaining depend on the municipal bodies for this service. It is only for latrines and sewerage that the non-governmental agencies claim a share of about 10%.


The traditional welfares’ approaches advocate the policy of destroying the slums, tearing it down physically and redevelopment with subsidized housing. It is believed that providing welfare services to slums dwellers is the best way to bring about changes in slum areas and to solve the slum problems. This traditional approach to slum problems through clearance and redevelopment with subsidized housing has been criticized in its application to the developing countries.

There is no question that measures to bring about improvements in economic conditions will be great value to slum people. These includes more adequate wages, guaranteed minimum income, in – discriminatory employment policies, accessible and inexpensive credit, programme to train and retain youths and adults, more effective training for certain occupational countries.

Gita Dewan Verma (2000) has highlighted this issue in her work “slumming India”. She argues that the real problem is not the pervasive urban squalor that offends us all, but rather the moral and intellectual bankruptcy that sustains it. She states that for the urban poor minimal ‘landless’ options – outreach services instead of hospitals, street education instead of proper schools, slum upgrading in the place of housing -all have become very fashionable. They are also one -way streets. Once all urban land is lost to less essential, more glamorous uses there will be no turning the slumming clock back. After all it is impossible that an MM on an excessive 200 acres of land or a new fangled cyber park or any of the plush farmhouses larger than the ceiling limits will be dynamited to make room for T.B. sanatorium or a municipal school or a low income housing project and if and when our welfare state happens to change its mind about what is needed for urban welfare and stop urban slumming. According to her even competing interests in urban resources the state should make planned development a fundamental need of urbanites, calling for a high degree of responsibility on the part of those in charge of urban governance.

In other words this approach relies directly on the slum dwellers themselves. If their apathy and dependence can be overcome and replaced by pride and a sense of initiative, the slum dwellers can make good use of solving their manifold problems. The approach to the problems of the city slums through urban community development involves the following elements.

  1. Creation of a sense of social cohesion on a neighborhood basis and strengthening of group interrelationship.
  2. Encouragement and stimulation of self- help, through the initiative of the individuals in the community.
  3. Stimulation by outside agencies where initiative for self- help is lacking.
  4. Reliance upon persuasion rather than upon compulsion to produce change through the efforts of people.
  5. Identification and development of local leadership
  6. Development of civic consciousness and acceptance of civic responsibilities
  7. Use of professional and technical assistance to support the efforts of the people involved
  8. Coordination of city services to meet neighborhood needs and problems
  9. Provisions of training in democratic procedures that may result in decentralization of some government functions.

There are four main objective of urban community development programme applicable to the slums are

  • development of community feeling;
  • self -help improvement of a person or
  • a group by its own contributions and efforts and largely of its own benefit;
  • Indigenous leadership and cooperation between govt. and the people in the use of services.

Governments’ Initiatives on redressing slum problems

· Public distribution system (PDS)
· Antyodaya Anna Yojana
· National Slum Development Programmes
· Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission
· Swarna Jayanti Shahri Rozgar Yojana

The Marxist and Socialist approach to the problem of the slums clearly points out only solution that if only the land in urban areas is nationalized and removed from the orbit of market operation. (see A.R Desai and S. Devidas, 1972). This single step, which does not require resources, but only breaking away from bourgeois norms of private property and legitimacy on remuneration to unearned income occurring to ownership, will remove half the problem of the urban areas by ceasing all activities that have developed around land as a marketable commodity. Abolition of private profit seeking agencies for constructional activities is another essential step for the solution of the urban problems especially slums. Only public assurance and provision of work to every able- bodied worker can provide the vast majority of non – propertied classes the purchasing power so necessary for survival. This assurance can be given
only if employment in production, distribution and service is freed from market operation of capitalist competitive economy. An economy based on social ownership of the means of production and a social development that does not treat human beings as commodities.

The humanitarian approach to the problem of slums basically highlights the triumph of the human spirit over poverty. Kalpana Sharma (2000) in her famous case study ”Rediscovering Dharavi Mumbai Slum” Challenges the conventional notion of a slum. According to her Dharavi is much more than a cold statistic. What make it special are the extraordinary people who live there, many of whom have defied fate and an unhelpful state to prosper through a mix of back breaking work, some luck and a great deal of ingenuity. Once the government launched programme that guaranteed people security, they are willing to redevelop areas or upgrade their dwellings. The process and manner in which slums are reorganized or redeveloped have to be done in consultation with the people involved.

In Dharavi, there are already a few examples like Rajiv Gandhi cooperative in kalyan Wadi, which shows all is possible when a community is consulted on all aspects of slum redevelopment. The mainstream institutions of finance have rarely considered the needs of the poor. While Maharashtra government’s plan to provide free housing to slum dwellers is commendable because it recognizes the investments that most of them have already made in their housing.

The economic determinant that culminated in the creation of existing slums are still at work however undesirable our slums may be, from a humanitarian viewpoint they do provide shelter to low – income families. If economic growth, full employment or lowering of discrimination towards job applicants should raise the real income of the majority of those living in the slums housing qualities would tend to improve.

Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas Census 2011

[Read This Article]


Urbanization is an ongoing phenomenon which is very difficult to capture through single approach or analysis, especially in India. In above topic it is tried to capture different aspects of slums, history to present situation, the various approaches to study slums and the problems and consequence of urbanization, its characteristics. It should be noted that slums issues have multidimensional nature. One can find inter-relationship with most of the issues concerning slums dwellers with the problems related to urbanization. It is a process which is linked to many
structures and process.

Some theorists suggests that increasingly divergent forms of urban organization are likely to emerge due to differences in the timing and pace of the urbanization process, differences in the position of cities within the global system, an increasing effectiveness of deliberate planning of the urbanization process by centralized governments holding different values and, therefore, perusing a variety of goals for the future.


  1. Books –
    Rao, M. S. A. (ed.), 1974. Urban Sociology in India, Orient Longman, New DelhiRamachandra, R., 1989. Urbanization and Urban Systems in India, OUP, Delhi
    Mishra, R. P., 1998. Urbansiation in India: Challenges and Opportunities, Regency Publications,
    New Delhi
    R N Sharma and K Sita, 2000 “Cities slums and Government” Economic and Political weekly Vol.
    35 No. 42 (Oct 14-20, 2000) pp.3733 – 3735
  2. Official Documents –
    The Challenges of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements (2003)
Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas
Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas, Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas

About the Author

Leave a Reply

You may also like these