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Opinion | Slum creation is a mammoth scam across Indian cities and towns

Slum formation and protection is nothing short of demographic tinkering on the one hand, and buying votes on the other

September 18, 2018 / 02:22 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

RN Bhaskar

Last week, in a quiet move, the government of Maharashtra swiftly moved to modify some key rules relating to the acquisition of slum rehabilitation authority (SRA) flats. The government stated that a discount on SRA flats will henceforth be available for ineligible slum-dwellers as well.

The move was horrifying for three reasons. First, it makes a mockery of SRA flats being only for registered slum-dwellers. Second, the flats are being built at the expense of taxpayers. So, in effect, the taxpayers are being asked to fund the construction and acquisition of flats even by those who are not registered slum-dwellers. Third, the flats being built by the SRA are far short in supply to the actual demand.

India needs over 18.8 million affordable houses. In November 2017, the Maharashtra City and Industrial Development Cooperation (CIDCO) announced the construction of just 14,000 SRA flats in Navi Mumbai. In 2010, there were media reports about 4,702 being built around Mumbai, of which 1,063 flats would be given on auction. The total number of SRA flats built, and the registered numbers on the waiting, is not known. So why include non-registered slum dwellers now?

It is in this context that there is a desperate need to recognise that the entire slum identification and slum creation exercise is nothing short of a mammoth scam. It borders on the unconstitutional because it has become similar to stuffing bogus ballots into ballot boxes, thus defeating the very concept of democracy.

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According to Census data, there were 1,743 slums in 2001. This number increased to 2,613 by the 2011 Census. Something has caused the number of registered slums to increase. The Census authorities give four probable reasons: urbanisation, industrialisation, higher productivity in the secondary/tertiary sector against primary sector makes cities and towns centres of economic growth and jobs; and, cities act as beacons for the rural population as they represent a higher standard of living and offer opportunities to people not available in rural areas.

A fifth reason, which it has forgotten but is the most important, is — most slums are politically-motivated for the creation of vote banks and frustrate the normal democratic process.

Slum population

The table above (slum and urban population) gives the growth of slum population as 22.4%. This is when the national population growth is just 1.2% each year, and the decadal growth was 17.64% according to Census 2011. In urban slum reported towns the growth was a breathtaking 30.8%.

Slum household

This table (slum households) makes it clear that even though slum population grew at 22.4%, the number of slum households grew at 37%. If one considers urban slum reported towns, the number of households grew even more sharply. As against decadal population growth of 30.8%, the number of households grew by 44.2%.

The reason why the number of households grew faster is because almost all slum benefits are given to households and not on a per capita basis. Thus, each household gets, say, 200 units of subsidised electricity, or a certain amount of water, or even entitlement to an SRA flat.

Obviously, what does a slum population do? It asks two siblings to register as two separate households, even though the wall between the houses may be just a fraying tattered cloth curtain. Obviously, the ration officer, the municipal and police authorities are aware of this. But someone has obviously told them to turn a blind eye to such developments. That is how the taxpayers’ money gets used up rapidly, requiring him to pay even more taxes.

Slum Children

The above table (slum children) shows that even while the population of slums has been growing, and so have households, the number of children have not been growing at the same pace. The decadal growth for children was just 14.5%, almost one-third the rate for household growth. It is inconceivable to believe that slum-dwellers have been practising family planning — and that too on such a large scale. The reason is simple. Many of the slum dwellers illegally settled on government lands are young people who have been instructed to go and squat on land where politicians want the demographic profile of a territory to be changed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that children are sent to their respective village homes.

Thus, if a politician finds that he has little chance of being elected from a specific constituency, all he has to do is spend some money to rope in slum lords, who bring in people to squat on government land. Sometimes, installing a bust of a scheduled tribe/caste leader helps because any move to evacuate such squatters leads to charges of discrimination against SC/ST (helpless) slum-dwellers.

Had the concern for regularising slums been genuine, slum-dwellers would have been given SRA flats on the outskirts of the city. By giving them flats in the same territory, politicians ensure that they remain voters loyal to their protectors.

What is worse, there are now moves to exempt slum-dwellers from paying property tax as well. So, at a time when the central government talks about widening the tax net, politicians are keen on shrinking the tax base to win the loyalties of the slum voting populations. The only way to stop this mess is by denying voting rights to anyone who does not have a legal place of residence. Just this move will ensure that political support for slum formation and preservation disappears.

Slum formation and protection is nothing short of demographic tinkering on the one hand, and buying votes on the other. It is also discriminatory and iniquitous because it imposes additional taxes on a (shrinking) law-abiding, tax-paying population.

The author is consulting editor with Moneycontrol.com
RN Bhaskar

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