Sunday, September 26, 2010

After the Games - the slums of Delhi

The Delhi Commons Website has this humorous (and very apt) badge illustrating the state of Delhi in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games.

Anyone who has experienced the city's nightmarish traffic and dug-up roads for the past few years will tell you how very well this sketch represents what's happened in Delhi. Now that the games are upon us, I can only pray this effort was worth it.

To build all this infrastructure, over 400,000 migrant workers have made the capital their home (see photo series here). No one really knows what will become of these workers once the games are over. Some will go back, no doubt, to their villages. But I'm guessing many will stay back, adding to Delhi's slum population.

The exact size of Delhi's slum population is a bit of a hit-and-miss guess. Of the total population of about 20 million (National Capital Region), there's one scary estimate that says 52% live in slums. Another estimate says that Delhi's slum population is growing at a rate which is 4.5 times that of its non-slum population.

If this continues - with large scale additions such as the Games - we are soon going to see a city that is mostly slums.

Delhi Settlements Classification: Source Economic Survey of Delhi: 2001-2002
This table shows both slum as well as non-slum settlements in Delhi.

According to this table above, slums made up half of Delhi's population 10 years ago, and I can only imagine that it has gotten worse since then.

Delhi's slums are not a homogenous mass. Researchers, writers and government departments recognise that Delhi's slums are of different types:

  • Jhuggi/Jhopri settlements - these account for the bulk of the slums in Delhi; they are illegal squatters on public or private land. The primary characteristic is that the houses are makeshift and 'kutcha', since they have no land rights and constantly fear eviction. Unlike Mumbai, where there are dense slum clusters like Dharavi, Delhi's jhuggi clusters are widely dispersed, and can be found near railways tracks, nullahs/streams, parks, river banks, and some roads. The typical squatter settlement has about 100 families; larger ones have upto 300. They are often organised along caste/community affiliations.
  • Slum designated areas - Many of these are 'katras' in the walled city (Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi). The walled city was designed to hold 60,000 people, but it holds several times that number. These areas have been specifically notified under the Slum Areas Improvement and Clearance Act.
  • Urban and Rural Villages - Delhi has several such zones; places that started out as villages but have gotten absorbed into the city as the limits of the city have grown. I have classified these under slums because conditions here are slum-like, with low incomes, poor access to water and sanitation, as well as low literacy levels. There are 135 such villages in Delhi; but not all are poor. The photo below is from Khirki Village, where this family lives in a broken down structure that is a remnant of a village home.
  • Resettlement colonies - these are slum dwellers who have been resettled from their original location to new approved locations such as Trilokpuri, Kalyanpuri, Kichripur etc. Resettlement began in 1961 in Delhi. Earlier, it was easy to resettle slums, because prior to 1970, there were only about 40,000 slum households to be resettled. As the city's slum population has grown, resettlement has become impossible. But the existing resettlement colonies have better access to infrastructure than the slums; and with land rights secured, they have invested in improving their living conditions.
So much for the slums. Apart from slums, we have two more classifications that are very interesting:
  • Unauthorised Colonies - These are not really slums, but they are illegal all the same. There are nearly 1700 colonies where agricultural or forest land has been grabbed illegally; and houses constructed and sold. Typically there is a mafia at work, which is in cahoots with the police and the authorities. These colonies create an unregulated demand for water and power; often borewells are illegally constructed and water tables in the adjoining areas are depleted. There's a whole section of the Delhi Department of Urban Development devoted to managing these colonies.
  • Authorised Unauthorised Colonies - Several of the unauthorised colonies have now been "regularised" in populist moves, leading to this funny-sounding new category.
And then, *finally* we come to the Planned Colonies, which form about 25% of Delhi's population. This 25% then, represents the people of Delhi who live in places other than slums, urban/rural villages and illegal constructions. This 25% is made up of all the government babus, the middle and upper-middle class, as well as those living in upscale bungalows and big condominium apartments.

Scary, huh? To think that 75% of the city is either in a slum or in some other form of badly provisioned or illegal habitation? In all the "prettification" and "world-class-ification" leading up to the Games, this is a very sobering thought.


Divya Shankar said...

Have begun to follow your blog recently. Very thought provoking post. Harsh and glaring reality provided in clear/terse stats.
Does this mean that OC has put up bamboo screens in 75% of Delhi?

Gora Girl said...

Given that your work involves tourism and tourist aren't interested in seeing this aspect of any city, I commend you on this post...
But, if 75% of the city is made of these colonies, seeing this can't be avoided. However, better to be prepared. When I first visited, I knew I might see some of this. But, it was indeed more than I expected and right out of the airport...

Deepa said...

Divya and GG -

The Unauthorised Colonies, and the "Authorised Unauthorised" Colonies are not slums. They don't need to be covered up. Neither is all of Old Delhi a slum, although frankly, it is a real eyesore with dirt everywhere.


Deepa said...

Speaking of the airport, GG, Mahipalpur, the area near the airport is a village / slum that has now morphed into a place for motels / hotels / small businesses etc. This is because land rights are clear. There is a strong school of thought that says the biggest problem in slums is the lack of entitlement to the land/home. This makes slum dwellers of temporary tenements unwilling to invest in their homes. As soon as they move up the income ladder, they then look for places with secure titles. So the re-settlement colonies with secure house titles now contain people like drivers, tradesmen etc who have moved up a level. Their children have higher levels of education, their homes have more amenities, they have better sanitation, fewer illnesses, than drivers/tradesmen in squatter areas.

AciMeow said...

Hi, I stumbled upon your blog when I was searching for "Delhi Blogs". Anyway, I will be in Delhi in November and I saw your rail to Agra post - I would like to find out about pre-booking a car while in Agra. Do you have anyone that you can recommend? I would like to book a car for the day as we're doing a day trip from Delhi and would like to cover Fatehpur Sikri as well as the area surrounding the Taj. Thank you for your help.

Deepa said...

Amri, please see


ashmeeta said...

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Anonymous said...

As an academic researcher studying slums in Delhi, this post was very useful to me. While other members of my team acquired on-the-ground experience, I mostly pour over statistics that they gathered from my ivory tower across the ocean. Your explanations of the heterogeneity of Delhi's settlement types are lucid and useful. Thank you so much.

R.Kumar said...

Government claims of development and improvement in these area but none of these have solved this problems permanently or in long run , Situations in slums are not satisfactory.., thanks to some not for profit organization who initiated this noble effort to uplift livelihood of people living in these area..! Yet Lot of work in pending