That the actual number of people living in slums in India was several times more than the official figure of 52 million (as per the 2001 census) was hardly a secret.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, the nodal agency dealing with slums, has admitted that the projections made so far could be flawed, leaving a sizable number of slums outside the purview of welfare schemes.
To determine the exact population in the ongoing census, the housing ministry has recommended to the home ministry — which is overseeing the census — that the earlier definition (2001 census) of slums was restrictive and needed to be changed.
The housing ministry has recommended that in the ongoing census, small clusters of 20-25 households living in a contiguous area and exhibiting slum-like characteristics — like little or no access to basic civic amenities like water, sanitation and sewerage — be categorised as slums.
The earlier definition of a slum is 60-70 households or 300 persons living in a contiguous area in slum-like conditions.
To make the projections more accurate, the housing ministry has also asked the Office of the Registrar General, India, which is conducting the ongoing census, to target small town/cities with population of less than 20,000.
In 2001, only states/cities with population of over 50,000 and above were surveyed for slums.
“Our minister Kumari Selja had written to the MHA in August last year that to go by the changing ground realities, slums needed to be redefined. Since then, we have had several meetings with the Office of the Registrar General, India, which has agreed in principle with our recommendation. A final approval from the MHA is expected soon,” said a housing ministry official.
“It is desirable that small and medium towns are also surveyed for slums. The move is welcome as it means that the government is interested in taking slum development measures to these towns as well,” said professor Amitabh Kundu of the School of Social Sciences, JNU.