Given the increasing scarcity of available land in our cities, it is becoming all the more difficult to look at the creation of affordable urban housing without first factoring in slums and their redevelopment. While Mumbai is probably the most talked-about city when it comes to slums, Pune is by no means an exemption. Pune and the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation together have almost 200 areas which are either officially classified as slums, or meet all the criteria that defines a slum. Areas in the latter category are mostly squatter settlements, which strictly speaking are not slums at all. In either case, the one recurring motif about slums and squatter settlements is that they are neighbourhoods in which the city’s poor reside in squalor and ignorance. Before we discuss slum redevelopment in Pune, Mumbai or any other Indian city for that matter, we should understand how true this concept really is. After all, we are talking about people and what they are doing for subsistence, and how that equation will or should change. Here is a subaltern perspective:

So, what are slums and squatter settlements, and what makes them so common in a country like India ? Slums are popularly defined as areas with extremely poor quality housing, unhygienic drainage, high crime-rates and an overall lack of convenience and security for residents. As such, they come across as a clear representation of urban poverty. Urban ‘poor housing’ comes in a variety of sizes and shapes, and is called by different names in different regions. The word ‘slum’ literally means a community neighborhood which was previously in good shape but has since deteriorated and been subdivided to accommodate a disproportionately large number of low income groups.

On the other hand, the concept of squatter settlements revolves more around areas accom modating housing built on illegally occupied lands. There is also a third kind of settlement in this category, sometimes referred to as ‘irregular subdivisions’ by urban planners. This term refers to the housing premises which have been legally built by the owner, but subdivided into plots and rented or sold to the poor without following the applicable bylaws. A clearer definition for slums however is a quarter for a group of people who lack any or all of the following: sufficient floor space for each member, durable structure, access to clean water and sanitation, and secured tenure of living. These are the areas and people that are in greatest need of affordable modern housing to replace the inferior living conditions. Why Do Slums Exist ? All over India, cities are growing, and it is getting increasingly difficult for the poor to acquire personally owned property. The most common school of thought is that slums are the result of poverty. This is only partially true. In fact, slums are the products of bad governance, failed policies, inappropriate regulations, an unresponsive financial system, a city’s dysfunctional property market, corruption, and a complete lack of political will. Slums and squatter settlements are very prominent around core urban areas as the poor cannot afford even the most minimal housing arrange ments provided by the government. Many others are forced into slums as they are not able to decipher and overcome barriers like red-tape and the time constraints involved in acquiring property via the existing system. In well-developed cities like Karachi, Manila or Mumbai, slums account for over 50% of the populated area. In many regions, land is still acquired through traditional means and indigenous tenure systems, which are basically bad news for the poor. While development is facilitating the construction of modern buildings, the prices of average housing is constantly rising. Even homes with minimal conveniences and provisions are beyond affordability for the lower income groups. Forced out of the property market, they are constrained to find accommodation in low-quality, pathetic housing arrangementsergo, slums. Interestingly, it is also true that the modern economy is centred around cities. As such, the poor cannot go far beyond the city’s urban areas, and must linger around the periphery in slums, which at least gives them access to the available job opportunities. Due to the space crunch, they are forced to occupy as little land as possible in places that are frequently affected by flooding, poor drainage and are plagued by a substantial lack of hygiene. So slum re-development and rehabilitation have become imperatives that may no further be conveniently brushed under the carpet. But before we could intelligently discuss slum re-development and rehabilitation, which in any case is only possible with determined political will, it is all the more important to first understand the needs and priorities of slum dwellers.

To the casual eye, slums are a places for diseases, political unrest, crime, ignorance and misbehavior. Not many are aware that slum dwellers are actually a lot more organized than inhabitants of regulated urban areas. Every occupant participates in the slum’s economy, and together they work out ways to address all the challenges facing them. Contrary to popular opinion, slums are full of dynamism, enthusiasm, creativity, resourcefulness and even entrepreneurial skills. Indian slums have their own local markets, property intermediaries and cultural groupings. These processes are not overseen by the government, but run by residents themselves. As such, non governmental and government agencies first need to understand the intricate social systems of slums before they plan to intervene. Slum dwellers themselves are naturally averse to any kind of change in the already precari ously balanced status quo they exist in, but it is only with the help of these same slum dwellers that the government can come even close to a properly laid-out plan for resettling these families and provide a better means of living.

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