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Don’t dwell on it

India can’t be made slum-free very soon, says a government panel. Why did we even try? When in June 2009, President Pratibha Patil told Parliament that ‘her government’ was planning to make the country slum-free in half a decade through a new scheme, not much attention was paid.

india Updated: Jun 15, 2010 21:59 IST
Hindustan Times

India can’t be made slum-free very soon, says a government panel. Why did we even try?

So it’s kinda official: India won’t be able to make slums disappear in the ‘next five years’. When in June 2009, President Pratibha Patil told Parliament that ‘her government’ was planning to make the country slum-free in half a decade through a new scheme, not much attention was paid. However, like the eradication of poverty being subliminally linked to the eradication of poor people, some of us did register Ms Patil’s statement as a vague notion of a Jagmohan-type steamrollering of jhuggi-jhopris. It’s been a year since that announcement, and perhaps fearing that the same misconception of conflating slums with people who live in slums will be made, an expert committee formed by the central government has said, ‘Nope, making India slum-free is unrealistic.’

Apart from romanticising people living in inhuman conditions, there’s the more mundane matter of wondering whether slum-dwellers can be shifted to non-slum habitations or not. Like beggary, there’s a tinge of alternative lifestyle tag to slummery. But for a country that has a sizeable population of people without any kind of home, making around 61.8 million slum-dwellers move into habitations that don’t have tarpaulins as walls, open communal drains as toilets and shared tubewells and ‘stolen’ electricity might be more than just daunting. So as always, if you can’t do it, romanticise the ‘non-doing’ of it.

The plan now is to give property rights to ex-slum-dwellers, upgrading existing slums (to sub-houses or supra-slums?), creating new houses etc. We needn’t worry too much about jhuggi-jhopris being converted into nice, decent trailer parks in a hurry. In any case, we can’t quite see Danny Boyle or the Oscar jury getting all excited over a film about dreams and aspirations of a young boy living in a cheap, government housing two-room flat. So...

First Published: Jun 15, 2010 21:57 IST