Alternatives to Slum Demolitions in India

Since 2000, slum demolition in major cities across India has dramatically increased. Slum demolition wrecks havoc on those families displaced and causes economic disruption, what are the alternatives?

Why does Slum Demolition Matter?

Investment in Human Capital

Slum dwellers are vital parts of the economy, filling low wages positions and their work contributes to the stimulation of the economy. Demolitions effect their capacity to contribute by taking time away from their work and draining the amount of money they have available. If they have to spend money rebuilding their home, they will not be using it for other purposes.

Unsanitary Conditions for Slum Dwellers and the community

Lack of basic amenities provide inhumane living conditions for slum dwellers. With no running water to take baths in, they are forced to use any they can access which oftentimes is already polluted and their use contributes to the pollution. Lack of latrines or bathrooms also creates unhealthy conditions which can pollute the community beyond the slum. 

Factors to Slum Development

There are several factors which have lead to the development of slums in urban areas. One aspect is that slums are the product of imbalanced urban growth and an over-concentration of economic resources in one area. When there is a lack of jobs or opportunity in the rural areas, people must come to where the jobs are in urban settings. This is also an unwanted and unplanned effect of structural adjustment programs of the IMF or World Bank. The programs are intended to stimulate the economy of the nation but historically have had an adverse effect on the rural communities. Slum-dwellers suffer a lack of regular sources of livelihood, occupational vulnerability and work in jobs which lack a minimum wage standard. All of these factors increase the vulnerability to their housing. These low-income circumstances combined with the extremely high cost of land in urban environments all contribute to the creation of slums. Once slums are created, there is pressure to get rid of them and if demolition is used as the answer, the results can create a more difficult situation for the displaced inhabitants and oftentimes don’t even have the desired effect of the demolition.

Post Demolition Effects

Demolitions are conducted and afterwards, several things occur, lots are sometimes left vacant and people start a slum again on the same area, it can become a dumping ground, can be turned into parks or green areas, or it becomes a construction of a planned project or road. The majority are left vacant. Demolitions lead to densification of existing nearby slums, creating a more difficult situation there. In the cases where families are relocated to a new area, it is usually at the periphery of the city and the government must account for the cost of providing bus service as well as the new settlement. For the families, income is lost, additional travel costs accumulate, savings are lost and new expenses are contribute to the perpetuation of their poverty, which makes the relocation option not the optimal choice.

Legal Background of Slum Demolition in India


Historically, in India, there has been consideration for slum dwellers and an acknowledgment that the government had an obligation to them to provide services. It was recognized that lack of these services would lead to unsanitary conditions for the slums as well as the surrounding community. The Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Act of 1971 pledged to provide basic amenities to slums and that excess public lands would be allocated to slum-dwellers and eventually deeds would be granted. The 74th Amendment to India’s Constitution aims to strengthen the position of urban governance in a more organized manner. This attempt aspires to augment the efficiency and effectiveness of municipalities in the discharge of their duties and functions with the participation of the population. The aim was that both local and national government agents would be more capable of planning and financing, housing is one aspect of the planning. Despite the amendment, the municipalities are facing wide-ranging problems and haven’t been efficient. Article 21 of the Constitution which states citizens’ “right to life” has also been interpreted as right to housing. In 1980 Ratlam Municipal Council vs. Vardichan court case clarified that the municipal authorities and not slum-dwellers are the party responsible for nuisances arising from slums with inadequate municipal services. Additionally, in  the 1992 K K Manchanda vs. the Union of India case also focused on the nuisance creation of slums. The ruling found that municipal services must be provided to slum dwellers to avoid the creation of the nuisance.

Changes in India

In 2000, rulings in cases began finding the slums to be nuisances in and of themselves and the state responsibility no longer was to provide facilities to the slums but that they should prevent the creation of slums and had the obligation to get rid of slums for the good of the greater community. In 2000 the case  Almitra Patel vs. the Union of India declares slums themselves are places of filth and nuisance, lacking basic concern for health and environment and need to be prevented. Both Almitra Patel (2000) and Okhla Factory Owners’ Association (2002) additionally deny the obligation of the state to provide resettlement alternatives to the evicted families. It was this shift in judgments that lead to the use of phrase “illegal encroachments” and identifying “slums as illegal.”


India is signatory to several international commitments which obligate the state governments to provide adequate housing to their citizens and acknowledges housing as a basic human right. The Istanbul declaration in 1996 to which India is a signatory states, “Adequate shelter and services are a basic human right which places an obligation on governments to ensure their attainment by all people.” The 1956 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also states, “Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights. Where those affected are unable to provide for themselves, the State Party must take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land, as the case may be, is available.”

How can I help?

Supporting clean water access helps with some of these issues for slum dwellers, when sanitary conditions deteriorate is when locals usally complain, prompting the demolitions.

Main partner:
Lok Seva Sangam  an Indian NGO which has been working in Mumbai slums for the past 36 years.

Other partners:

Svarga Dwar – an Ashram type of project situated in Taloja just outside Mumbai. It looks after orphans and ex Hansen’s disease patients.

Parva school – This is a school project set up by a former volunteer in the slums of Jaipur, Rajastan.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: