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Role of Slums in Indian Society

GS Paper 1

 Syllabus: Indian Society/ Urbanization/ Governance


Source: TH

Context: The article explores the evolving narratives and definitions of slums in the context of Indian parliamentary debates.


Evolution of the discourse on slums:

First era (1950s-1960s)Slums are viewed as a result of partition and population influx into cramped areas. Considered an epidemic to be eradicated. Connected to spatial constraints and health issues, ignoring socio-economic factors.The introduction of the Slum Areas Act of 1956 made government intervention possible. Slums became a legal entity.
Second era (Early 1970s-Mid-1980s)Shifted to viewing slums as something to be developed. The narrative included providing basic amenities instead of destruction.Town planning emerged as a governance tool, pushing slums to peripheries.
Third era (Mid-1980s-Late 1990s)Cities and slums are seen as assets for economic growth.  Economic reasoning replaced social concerns.Broader housing policies were introduced, addressing land, finance, and infrastructure. The National Slum Development Programme was launched in 1996.
Fourth era (2000s-2014)Understanding based on data from the 2001 Census. The causes of slum formation are linked to urban planning, population growth, urbanization, land pressure, and price rise. Upliftment associated with property rights.Urban housing deficit became the focus of housing policies. Definitions broadened with the Census, leading to targeted schemes.
Overall TransformationEvolution from viewing slums as a socio-political issue to a technical, economic object. Increasing reliance on technological solutions for urban problems.Continual transformation of slum definitions, adapting to data-driven and technocratic approaches.


What are Slums?

 Slums have been defined as those areas where buildings are unfit for human habitation, or are by dilapidation, overcrowding, design of buildings, narrowness of streets, lack of ventilation, light or sanitary facilities or any combination of these factors, are detrimental to safety, health or moral (Slum Area Improvement and Clearance Act 1956).



An all-India average where the cities with 10 lakh and above population have over 29% population living in slums. The percentage of slum population in the four mega cities is – Bombay (over 34%, Calcutta 32%, Madras 32% and Delhi 31%). As much as 65% of Indian cities have adjoining slums where people live in small houses adjacent to each other.


The role played by Slums in Indian cities

  • Economically: Slums are often vibrant centres of economic activity as slum workers provide essential services to the city.
    • Informal economy: Slums are home to a large number of people who work in the informal sector, such as rickshaw drivers, street vendors, and construction workers.
    • Contribution to Urban Workforce: Many slum residents form an integral part of the urban workforce, providing essential services in construction, domestic work, transportation, and other sectors. Their contributions are critical to the functioning of the city.
  • Socially: Slums are also home to a diverse range of people. This diversity can lead to a vibrant community life, with people from different cultures coming together to support each other.
    • Social Networks and Solidarity: These communities develop strong social networks and a sense of solidarity. Residents support each other through mutual assistance, shared resources, and collective problem-solving.
    • These informal support systems are vital in the absence of formal social services, creating a sense of belonging and resilience within the community.
  • Culturally: Slums are characterized by their diverse population with people from different regions, religions, and cultural backgrounds. This diversity fosters cultural exchange, tolerance, and understanding among residents. Slums can be dynamic spaces where diverse traditions, languages, and cuisines coexist, enriching the social fabric of the city.


Common problems faced by Slum dwellers



Government Initiatives for Slum Dwellers/Urban Poor:


Recommendations for Improving Conditions of Slum Dwellers in India

  • Efforts should focus on addressing the underlying issues, such as poverty, housing, and infrastructure, while also recognizing the strengths and resilience of slum communities.
  • By implementing inclusive urban policies and improving living conditions, it is possible to harness the positive aspects of slums while ensuring better opportunities and quality of life for all residents.
    • For e.g. Dharavi Redevelopment Project is the makeover of Mumbai’s slum cluster, Dharavi. It entails resettling 68,000 people, including slum dwellers and those with commercial establishments.
  • Local authorities need to be empowered with financial and human resources to deliver services and infrastructure to the slum dwellers in India.
  • State governments have to 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 infrastructure. The 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.
  • Building codes and regulations should be realistic and enforceable and reflect the local community’s lifestyle and needs.



By addressing the challenges faced by slum dwellers, the Govt’s can help to improve the lives of millions of people and make India a more inclusive society. Human well-being is broadly considered to include the consumption of goods and services and the access to basic necessities for a productive and socially meaningful life to all sections of the population, especially the deprived slum dwellers in India.


Insta Links:


Mains Links:

 Why slums are considered as ‘problems’ in urban regions?