Better physical infrastructure must be matched by improved access to education and healthcare.
Findings from the 69th round of the NSSO survey in 2012 show that the number of urban slums in the country have decreased by a third since 2009. This marks a significant decline,and though there has been scepticism in some quarters on the steepness of the fall,previous data from Census 2011 and the UN support the broad trend. In July this year,for instance,the UN Millennium Development Goals Report said that the number of slum-dwellers as a proportion of the total urban population had fallen from 42 per cent in 2000 to 29 per cent in 2010.
The real good news is the reported improvement in living conditions in both notified and non-notified slums. Slums are characterised by certain undesirable living conditions,such as inadequate sanitary and drinking water facilities,overcrowding and improperly constructed tenements. Now,however,a majority of slum houses are pucca structures,and 71 per cent of all slum households have access to drinking water. These households are also largely electrified,and some two-thirds have pucca thoroughfare roads. A too-high proportion of slum households still has no latrines (31 per cent),drainage (31 per cent) or garbage disposal facilities (27 per cent),but these percentages,too,are lower than in the past. Unsurprisingly,notified slums areas notified as slums by the concerned municipalities,corporations,local bodies or development authorities generally report better conditions than their non-notified counterparts. But the broad upgradation of basic physical infrastructure in slums could be seen as an indicator of their increased capacity to make demands on the state,or at least of the states ability to deliver on welfare schemes targeted at the urban poor.
As Census 2011 data released in March earlier this year showed,slum residents are also aspirational Indians. Many of the 8.8 million households in slums have moved up the consumption ladder there is near-parity among slum and non-slum households in terms of possession of mobile phones and other consumer durables. Access to education and healthcare is the obvious next step to ensure better outcomes for their children. Its time for phase two.