The slum population in the city — which forms a major chunk of voters every elections and is considered the most reliable vote bank by political parties — is believed to have increased by more than 25 per cent since the last general elections. The number of slumdwellers in Pune now stands at around 13 lakh.
Parties have been trying their best to woo this huge population, which accounts for nearly one-third of residents in Pune.
Sharad Mahajan, executive director of non-profit organisation Maharashtra Social Housing and Action League (MASHAL), said: “The city has roughly 500 slum areas with the number of slumdwellers rising to 13 lakh from nine lakh around five years ago. Around 2.25 lakh families live in city slums, each of which is of average size of 200 square feet. Negligible horizontal expansion of slums has taken place in the past five years, but its densification has increased multifold. City slums are growing vertically with 50-60 per cent of them having slabs, while 25 per cent are three-storey structures. Nearly 20 per cent of slum dwellings are rented out by owners with monthly rent in the range of Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000. Slums have gradually evolved as hidden investment market for certain elements.”
Mahajan said “political Robin Hoods” have been giving patronage to slums to ensure these pockets emerge as secure vote banks. According to a MASHAL study, almost 100 per cent electrification has been done in city slums, while more than 70 per cent of slumdwellers have individual water connection and over 50 per cent have proper drainage system.
“The political elements, mostly corporators, institutionalise the slums for personal gains. Employment opportunities are great in Pune. Every formal employment generates informal employment for at least three to four individuals. Pune being a booming job market for IT, automobile and construction industry, scope for formal employment and in turn informal employment is very high. Migrant population coming to Pune rarely returns to native places,” he said.
Mahajan said an “informal chain” of political parties reaches out to slumdwellers every elections, and incentives like money, liquor and food are offered. “Slumdwellers often cry about recognition needs and demand proper identity cards. The city has only around 4,000 homes built under the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) scheme, which is negligible considering the overall population of slumdwellers. Hygiene remains a perennial issue in slums. We hope slumdwellers give issue-based support to candidates rather than falling prey to enticement,” he said.
Slum activist Mubeen Khan said the Congress and NCP have more reach in slums compared to other parties. “The manifestos of all parties promise slumdwellers’ welfare every elections, but all those assurances remain on paper. Parties take voters from slums for granted. Only awareness among voters can stop this,” he said.