The twenty first century is expected to witness not only sustained population growth but also more of urbanization. Economic vibrancy of large urban centers is offering diverse employment opportunities and means of livelihood is the chief cause of migration to these areas. In India, migration has played an important role in accelerated urban growth. However, it concomitantly results in transfer of rural poverty to urban areas. Rural migrants are attracted to the urban areas for economic reasons regardless of the fact that physical infrastructure in terms of housing, drinking water supply, drainage etc. is not so adequate in the cities. Cities have been the hubs of economic growth. But planned urbanization has been marred to an extent by the excessive demand for basic amenities resulting in deterioration in the physical environment. The quality of life has thus suffered due to continuing influx of migrants and consequent widening of the gap between demand and supply of the essential services and other infrastructure in these areas. Unchecked migration, particularly aggravate housing problem resulting in increase in the land price. These force the poor to settle for informal solutions resulting in mushrooming of slums and squatter settlements. The problem of urban slums has been faced at some point of time by almost all the major cities throughout the developing world. Indian cities have not been an exception.
Sociologists, economists, environmentalists and town planners have perceived slums and problems of slum dwellers from their own point of view. But there is no denying the fact that the slums have become an integral part of the phenomenon of urbanization and are, in a way, manifestation of overall socio-economic policies and planning in the States and in the Country. But this should not discount the fact that the slum dwellers have been contributing significantly to the economy of the city by being a source of affordable labour supply both in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Comprehensive information on the slums is essential for formulation of an effective and coordinated policy for their improvement/ rehabilitation as they have not received due attention in urban planning and have remained as an area of neglect. Piecemeal efforts in the past have brought about some improvement in the lives of the slum dwellers, but this is not enough. A lot more is required to be done to improve the quality of life in slums.
Under section-3 of the Slum Area Improvement and Clearance Act, 1956, slums have been defined as mainly those residential areas where dwellings are in any respect unfit for human habitation by reasons of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangements and designs of such buildings, narrowness and faulty arrangement of streets, lack of ventilation, light or sanitation facilities or any combination of these factors which are detrimental to safety, health and morals. Thus, conceptually slums are compact overcrowded residential areas (and not isolated or scattered dwellings) unfit for habitation due to lack of one or more of the basic infrastructure like drinking water, sanitation, electricity, sewerage, streets etc.
It is in this background that in the 2001 Census, an innovative attempt was made to collect detailed demographic data about slum areas across the country, particularly, in cities and towns having population of 50,000 or above in 1991. Formation and identification of slum enumeration blocks prior to the conduct of 2001 Census has made it possible to compile and prepare special tables for slums. It is for the first time in the history of the country that the slum demography is being presented on the basis of the actual count. The systematic delineation of slums for collection of primary data on their population characteristics during population enumeration itself may perhaps be the first of its type in the world. What is significant is that this did not bring large additional burden on the financial resources or the manpower resources. The information on different characteristics of the slum dwellers has been collected through the same Census questionnaire of �Household Schedule�, which was canvassed for the population enumeration in the country at the 2001 Census.
The analysis of the data in this report provided an overview of the population characteristics of slums and squatter settlements and is expected to serve as a benchmark for pragmatic and realistic town planning while dealing with the issue of slums and slum dwellers.
It is with these information in hand that the National Urban Renewal Mission (NURM), a centrally sponsored programme is going to be launched this year in the 10th Plan Period with the objective of upgradation and development of Physical Urban Infrastructure along with improvement of Basic Services for the urban poor as well as boosting the growth of the towns of the state in a uniform and harmonic manner. Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme (IHSDP) form an important part of this Programme.
It is anticipated that the introduction of the programme will go a long way to upgrade and improve the basic urban infrastructure including the Poverty Sector. The ULB will be capable of utilizing the success of the programme for further Municipal developmental works and up gradation of the quality of Civic life. It will also help the ULB to become self-reliant and ultimately the town will be a potential generator of economic momentum and activities in the desired direction.
The scheme aims at upgradation and development of Physical Infrastructure along with improvement of Basic Services for the urban poor as well as improvement of the socio-economic infrastructure of the urban slums in close co-ordination and harmony with the development of the town as a whole.
For proper achievement of the objectives of the scheme, the following action plan has been followed for the individual towns.
1) Identification of the slum pockets: The identification and location of the slum pockets in each city and town has been done by the respective local authority. Clusters of 60-70 households with approximately 300 populations were carved out as separate Slum Pockets.
2) Surveying of the existing facilities: A team of the respective local bodies has assessed the existing facilities of physical infrastructure and socio-economic infrastructure. Of the physical infrastructure components, housing, being one of the basic human needs, has been given special importance. Other physical infrastructure facilities have been identified as water supply, drainage, roads, streetlights, solid waste management, community toilet and community bath. The components identified as socio-economic infrastructure are community Seva Kendra and community center.
3) Assessment of the needs: On the basis of the results obtained from the surveying of the existing facilities in each slum pocket, needs for further development have been assesses based on minimum requirement of each component for living a life of quality. To assess the requirements, site conditions, public demands and various criteria of the relevant codes have been considered.
4) Development Proposal: On the basis of the needs identified, the development proposal with drawing and estimate, time frame for execution of the development and the mode of execution of the projects have been discussed.
The State of West Bengal witnessed significantly a high level of urbanization during the decades: 70�s to 80�s. The urban population in West Bengal was estimated as 27.30% of the total population in the 2001 census report as against 28.03% in the entire country. The over all density of urban population in the west Bengal in 2000- 01 was estimated as 6,798 per sq.km. against the national average of 4,098/sq.km.
Slum areas are nothing new to the urban towns of West Bengal. It has been very much in existence from long time back for providing accommodation to the Economically Weaker Section as well as the backward section of the community. Rapid increase in the growth of slums in and around the town takes place due to increasing industrialization. The slum area proliferation took place in massive and speedy manner after partition of Bengal in the urban areas of the State where the uprooted refugees from the other side of the border took their shelter and colonies came up by and large all over the State, mostly in the urban areas where the displaced persons looked for their earnings and carrying out livelihood. Exodus of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan occurred again during the liberation war of Bangladesh. Again with the rapid increase of activities in the urban towns in West Bengal further slum areas proliferation took place simultaneously with their growth. Urban slum vis-�-vis the decline in the rural population living below the poverty line indicates continuous migration of respective group of people to the urban areas in search of employment, economic and livelihood needs.
As the density of urban population of West Bengal was 50% more that the national average, the slum population in the State is also much more than the average nation slum population, which accounts for 35% to 40% of the urban population.
Urban slum areas in West Bengal have been characterized by the following civic parameters –
Excessive population density.
Inadequate physical infrastructure like roads, drainage, sanitation, water supply, streetlights etc.
Major portion of population living below poverty line.
High rate of unemployment.
Low literacy rate.
Inadequate health care facility associated with high rate of morbidity and mortality.
Absence of recreation and social facilities.
Poor quality of shelter / dwellings.
High rate of crime incidence.
High rate of social disorder and degraded quality of life.