Slums are the most visible manifestation of India’s urban challenge. A common perception is that slum dwellers stay there out of a lack of choice. However, this may not be the case. Recent studies have shown that many slum dwellers can afford better homes, but choose to stay in slums. In one such study, published in the latest edition of the Economic and Political Weekly, Padmini Ram of Christ University and Barrie Needham of Radboud University examine the living conditions and preferences at slums in Raipur, Chhattisgarh.

The researchers surveyed 211 slum households across 21 slums in Raipur. While a small sample, the survey results confirm existing data on the challenges associated with slums. They revealed that in Raipur’s slums, most homes have encroached public land and are either kaccha or semi-pucca (brick walls, but with thatched roofs) structures. Most lack access to drinking water, toilets or a functioning drainage system.

Estimating the cost of ‘model’ flats recommended by the government for different income groups and the corresponding equated monthly instalments needed to buy them, the researchers show that 74% of the respondents could afford these houses. Despite this, they do not actually buy houses, the researchers found.

They found that many slum dwellers only considered buying new homes as an investment: the new home would be rented out, while they remained in the slum. This was because they preferred the sense of community and belonging that slums provide. The researchers found that, in most slums in Raipur, residents had migrated from the same village. This solidarity can help slum dwellers on a range of issues from neighbours babysitting children to collectively lobbying local politicians for better infrastructure.

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