People who live in India’s urban slums form the backbone of a service industry that most of us cannot do without. What was perhaps unclear till now was the contribution of slum-dwellers to the economic engine of the country. According to a new study, people living in urban slums contribute over 7% to the GDP. The study, which was conducted by Society for Participatory Research in Asia and Indicus Analytics, adds that in million-plus cities, nearly 40% of the households live in slums and in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata account for more than 50% of total slum households in the country.
Despite the contribution of the slum-dwellers, they are seen as ‘outsiders’ and are often deprived of basic necessities. The study found that 36% of slum households in the country don’t have electricity, tap water and sanitation within the house premises. But come election, political parties throw all kinds of sops for their votes, only to forget once they win. Vying to return to power in Delhi after 15 years, the Delhi BJP recently promised to provide flats to each and every family living in over 600 slum clusters if it wins the coming assembly polls. In many countries, slum upgradation has benefitted huge numbers of people. In South Africa, there have been some successful initiatives in which people who had no urban services were supplied with water, sanitation, and access to housing. In Latin America, crime is a major problem in slums, and there have been concerted efforts to reduce crime and increase public safety.
Even though state governments often see slums not as thriving economic units but a burden on civic infrastructure, it is in a city’s best interest to upgrade slums. If slums are allowed to deteriorate, governments can lose control of the populace and slums become areas of crime and disease that impact the whole city. Upgradation programmes can also address problems affecting slum residents: illegality, exclusion, precariousness and barriers to services, credit, land, and social protection for vulnerable populations such as women and children.