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Housing Poverty By Social Groups

Updated: February 7, 2015 6:20 am

13.9 million households were living in slums in urban India in 2011. While housing conditions within slums have improved between 1993 and 2008-09, BPL and Muslim households continue to have poor access to safe water supply and sanitation. They should be the focus of future policy

In 2011, 377 million or 31.7% of India’s total national population lived in urban areas and the rate of increase of urban population during 2001-11 was 2.81% per annum, both by all counts low given that India had registered a high economic growth rate for the decade. Even at this low level of urbanisation and urban population growth rate, 13.9 million (17.65%) households were living in slums in urban India in 2011. The housing shortage calculated by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA) of the Government of India puts the total housing shortage in urban India at the beginning of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2012-17) at 18.78 million units (National Building Organisation, 2012), which is 23% of total urban households. This article focuses on housing poverty disaggregated by social groups in India in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and targets. The author has reprocessed the 2008-09 housing data for analysis.


In the context of urban issues, Goal 7 of the MDGs is important. The targets of Goal 7 to be achieved by 2015 are presented along with the situation in the early-1990s (1), the period when the MDGs were framed. Target 10 of Goal 7 relates to increase in accessibility to safe drinking water and sanitation. Target 11of Goal 7 calls for significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers by 2020. The data on overall progress in urban areas with regard to the targets, disaggregated by social groups, are also presented in this section.


Target 10: Halving the proportion of households with no access to safe drinking water, from 34% in 1990 to 17% in 2015 (Central Statistical Organisation, 2011: 21).

Target 10: Halving the proportion of households with no access to sanitation facilities, from 76% in 1990 to 38% in 2015. The India Country Report on MDG achievements, 2011 (Central Statistical Organisation, 2011: 21) states that this target will be missed. In 2015, 43% of households are expected to be without access to sanitation. The report states that the target for urban populations without sanitation was 12.14%, but what would be achieved is 11.64% (Central Statistical Organisation, 2011: 22).

Target 11: Significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum populations globally, which constitutes reaching only 8.6% of the slum population. In real terms, it would mean bringing about 8.6% of slum households into improved housing. There is no target set for the country.


07-02-2015The water supply target stated was: reduction by half of the proportion of households with no access to safe drinking water. Among the various sources of water supply, we can assume that tap water is the safest. In the last half-a-decade, many urban households, particularly in higher expenditure groups, have begun to drink bottled water. This is because tap water is unsafe. But for normal households, even access to tap water is better than having to depend on hand pumps or personal wells. Households also aspire for tap water access to reduce the burden of water collection on women and children. Thus, households with access to tap and bottled water are together considered those with access to safe water.

In 2008-09, 77% of total urban households had access to safe drinking water (Table 1), from 70.5% in 1993 (Mahadevia and Sarkar, 2012: Table A5.2). In 1993, 29.5% of urban households did not have access to safe drinking water, dropping to 23% in 2008-09. This proportion should have been halved to 14.75%, which is not the case in 2008-09.

There are social differentiations with regard to lack of access to safe drinking water. BPL (below poverty line) households, that is those in the bottom 30% of the consumption expenditure class, have the highest proportion (37%) from among the social classes of households with no access to safe drinking water. The second worst-off group is Muslims: 31% of households did not have access to safe drinking water. All other social groups had higher than the all-urban average for the proportion of households without safe drinking water. Also, a very large proportion, 53% in all-urban but 68.7% among BPL households and 68.1% and 66.5% of scheduled class and scheduled tribe (SC and ST) households respectively shared a drinking water source. Thus, although there is progress in safe drinking water coverage, lacunae among certain social groups need to be kept in mind. Those below the poverty line and Muslims face greater deprivation than the general urban population.


In Table 1, metro and non-metro differentiations are also shown. This is because, as Mahadevia and Sarkar (2012) have observed, progress with regard to achievements in various urban services has been faster in metros (cities with a population of more than a million) than in non-metros where 70% of the urban population lives. Hence, to monitor the progress of MDGs in urban areas it is essential to differentiate between metros and non-metros. Interestingly, 34% of households in India’s non-metros did not have access to safe drinking water in 1993 (Mahadevia and Sarkar, 2012: Table A5.2); this has come down to 26.8% in 2008-09 (Table 1), which is still high. In 1993, just 15% of metro households did not have access to safe drinking water. This dropped marginally to 12.3% in 2008-09. Thus, progress in the metros has stagnated whereas that in non-metros is slow, probably on account of the inability of metros to reach populations living in slums and squatter settlements, and also recent migrants to the cities.



Target 10 includes an indicator on sanitation coverage. Sanitation comprises access to a toilet, access to a bath, access to drainage, and garbage collection by the local authorities. It appears that the MDGs are monitoring only the target of access to toilets. Particularly in the urban context, it is not enough to only have access to toilets. Given the population density in urban areas, the sewerage generated in toilets and baths has to be transported away for disposal, requiring sewerage networks. The genesis of town planning has been the provision of sewerage networks in urban areas to prevent the outbreak of waterborne diseases. Hence, the sanitation target has to be divided into different sub-targets to monitor the MDGs. This has been done below.

In 2008-09, 11.3% of the urban population did not have access to a toilet (Table 1). This proportion was 30.6% in 1993 (Mahadevia and Sarkar, 2012: Table A5.16). If the proportion had to be halved by 2015, to reach 15.3%, then that target has been achieved. But there are two groups that still lag behind in access to toilets: Muslim households (59.1% do not have access) and BPL households (54.2% do not have access) (Table 1). The proportion of households with no access to toilets among SCs and STs is nearly double that of the total urban population.


It is not enough to have access to a toilet. Standards of hygiene are poor in shared toilets as compared to individual household toilets. Among households with access to toilets on the whole, 35.5% of households shared a toilet in 2008-09 (Table 1). This proportion in 1993 was 41.4% (Mahadevia and Sarkar, 2012: Table A5.18). The improvement here is marginal. Further, among Muslims, sharing is to the extent of 89% and among BPL households it is 72.5%, which is very high. Thus, the focus of future policies for the extension of toilets should be on neighbourhoods with a large Muslim population and slums where the poor are concentrated. Slums with a concentration of BPL households are those with insecure tenure and squatter settlements of recent migrants. Sharing toilets is observed as much in metros as in non-metros. While in metros there is lack of space to construct individual toilets, non-metro households do not have the money to construct individual toilets.

07-02-2015The second component of sanitation is access to drainage, specifically closed drains. If toilets are not connected to drainage, there are problems with cleanliness and hygiene at the local level. On the whole, 14.8% of households were not yet connected to any drainage network in 2008-09 (Table 1), an improvement from 26.8% in 1993 (Mahadevia and Sarkar, 2012: Table 5.12). This means that the proportion of households with no access to drainage has halved in the period and is likely to further improve by 2015. However, the proportion remains high in the non-metros (19%), among BPL households (26%) and among SC and ST households (slightly above 20%). There is therefore still some progress to be achieved with regards to non-metros and vulnerable social groups. Even if drainage is available, it is not covered or underground, constituting a serious health hazard. About 40% of households connected to drainage had open drains in 2008-09, an improvement on 70% in 1993 (Mahadevia and Sarkar, 2012: Table 5.14). In non-metros, 51.6% are still connected to open drains. Seventy-six per cent of BPL households, 51.4% of Muslim households and 56% of SC households have toilets connected to open drains.

There is thus a long way to go in improving on drainage connections in non-metros and among BPL, SC and Muslim households.

07-02-2015The third aspect of sanitation is access to a bathing facility. Almost 21.5% of urban households do not have access to a bath, indicating that they either bathe out in the open or in a corner of the house itself. Most likely men bathe outside and women bathe in the house. The improvement is from 46.5% of the population not having access to a bath in 1993 (Mahadevia and Sarkar, 2012: Table A5.10) to the current proportion of 21.5%. Thus, the proportion of households with no access to a bath has halved in the period 1993 to 2008-09. In this facility, the metro/non-metro difference is not seen as there is space available to construct a bath in non-metros, which is not the case in congested localities in metros. But there are differences within the social groups. Among BPL households, 40.5%; among SCs 37.1%; among STs and Muslims, about 27% of households did not have access to a bath.

The last component of sanitation in urban areas is garbage-collection which, if not carried out, could be the source of various vector diseases. The situation in this aspect is dismal with only 62% of urban households reporting garbage-collection by the local government (Table 1). The situation was better in the metros where 77% reported collection as against 57% in non-metros. But among BPL households, only 51% reported collection while among ST households only 47% reported the same. In 1993, only

14% of households had reported garbage-collection by the local authority (Mahadevia and Sarkar, 2012: A5.20). So there is significant improvement in this aspect.

Uncollected garbage decays and smells foul; if wet it seeps into the ground and, where water supply lines are old and corroded, mixes with the water supply causing waterborne diseases. The urban poor in cities face two major health scourges: waterborne diseases and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, etc, on account of water impounding in some areas. Hence, garbage management, drainage and sewerage together contribute towards better sanitation. Attention must be paid to the various components of sanitation separately, rather than sanitation coverage in the abstract.


Target 11 relates to improvements in the lives of slum-dwellers. As mentioned earlier, 13.9 million (17.65%) households, or a population of 69.5 million, live in slums (Population Census, 2011). The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) estimate for 2008-09 is 10.8% of the urban population (Table 2), which is a 40.7 million urban population living in slums and squatter settlements. In the 2001 Census, this proportion was 26.3% (National Building Organisation, 2010: 20) or a 75.3 million population (16 million households). In 1993, as per the NSS’s 49th Round, 15.3% of urban households were living in slums, which is an estimated 35.1 million population (2). Thus, by all estimates, the proportion of slum-dwelling populations and households has declined in both the 2001-11 and 1993-2008/09 periods. But the total number of households living in slums has increased, as per NSSO data. The census data shows a reduction in the number of households and populations living in slums in 2011 as compared to 2001.


07-02-2015The proportion of people without a house in urban India is very small. As per the Twelfth Five-Year Plan Housing Shortage Estimation Committee, the total number of households without a house in 2012 was 0.53 million (NBO, 2012: 4). This is because households coming to urban areas, no matter how poor they are, can squat and erect a temporary shelter in which to live. Hence, ‘houselessness’ is not an issue in Indian cities. The quality of the house is. The data in Table 2 is for all-urban households, not just slum households.

The data is from the NSS’s 65th Round conducted in 2008-09. Although the NSS data gives an under-enumeration of slum households in urban India, it can be used to analyse the characteristics of slum households.

On the whole, in urban areas, as per NSS data, 91.7% of households live in pucca houses (Table 2). This is an improvement from 73.8% in 1993 (49th Round of the NSS). The proportion among BPL households however was 80.5% in 2008-09, which is to be expected. The BPL households are not living in kutcha houses, as this figure is only 5.6%. A significant proportion of BPL households live in semi-pucca houses. Only 2.1% of households lived in kutcha houses in 2008-09 (Table 2), from 8.3% in 1993 (49th Round of the NSS).

The per capita living space in urban areas was 11.2 sq m in 2008-09 (Table 2). In 1993, the per capita living space was 6.6 sq m (3). Hence, on the whole, there have been significant improvements in living conditions in urban India between 1993 and 2008-09. Crowding in urban living has eased over time. However, 60% of households still include married couples who do not have a separate room. They share space with other adult household members. Further, the per capita living space among BPL households is the lowest, at 7.0 sq m, followed by SCs (8.0 sq m) and Muslims (8.6 sq m).

Within slums there have been significant improvements in housing conditions between 1993 and 2008-09, as per NSS data (Table 3). The proportion of slum households living in kutcha housing units has declined to 14% from 35% in 1993; hence the proportion of households living in pucca housing increased from 31% in 1993 to 57% in 2008-09. This improvement has largely been the result of the efforts of slum-dwellers themselves as there have been no major slum development programmes implemented in India since 1990. Other indicators of slum housing have also improved within this period, as shown by data in Table 3. The data is however not available disaggregated by social groups.

There is a group that is systematically missed out in all the urban statistics: seasonal migrants. Also temporary migrants who move from place to place with their employers, such as construction firms. These two groups are unable to find a foothold in the city and are left out of all social protection programmes. Their children do not go to urban schools. They do not hold urban ration cards. They tend to live in squatter settlements with no hope of obtaining a slum residence. The statistics presented in this paper do not cover them. There are no estimates of them. This large section of urban migrants has been left out of the measurement and monitoring of MDGs.



The post-MDG agenda should be process-oriented and have transformative outcomes. It should also take on board existing inequalities, particularly among communities and different sizes of towns and cities in the urban context. In other words, inter- and intra-urban inequalities have to be addressed post-MDGs in a country such as India. This paper has presented the facts on urban inequalities in the context of Targets 10 and 11 of Goal 7 of the MDGs and reflects on the processes through which the agenda of these targets can be met in the future. It establishes that STs do not migrate to urban areas in significant numbers as India’s urbanisation process is not inclusive. Further, it identifies that SCs, Muslims and BPL populations in all cities and non-metro towns and cities lag behind in Targets 10 and 11 of Goal 7. Reaching out to these groups means identifying them in the urban space. This is feasible as Indian cities are segmented by caste and religion, with concentrations of SCs and Muslims in their segregated enclaves. While such segregation is negative, it assists in better targeting programmes. Further, BPL households tend to live in slums with low tenure security; therefore they too can be identified and targeted.

The target of access to safe water supply has not been met, as the proportion of households with no access reduced only from 29.5% in 1993 to 23% in 2008-09. This is because BPL households and Muslim households lag behind in access to safe drinking water. Progress in access to safe drinking water in slums is slow as 22% of households still do not enjoy access. Insecure slums are largely those on public lands, those along roads and those that are repeatedly displaced. The MoHUPA should formulate a water and sanitation policy for the poor which considers extending water supply and sanitation to all slum and squatter settlements irrespective of their tenure status, on the understanding that this is not an extension of tenure security. In other words, the extension of water and sanitation in all slums and squatter settlements should not be tied to tenure security.This facility could also be a shared facility. Non-metros lag behind metros in access to safe drinking water.

The concept of access to sanitation should be expanded to include not just access to a toilet but access to a bath, drainage and garbage-collection as well. The target of access to toilets has been achieved on the whole for urban India, but Muslim and BPL households lag way behind in achieving this target. Post-MDG, there should be a focus on these households. As discussed above, BPL households can be identified through levels of tenure security. Muslim households in many cities in India tend to be concentrated in a few geographic locations, which have to be identified for targeted intervention. While the target of access to toilets has been achieved, the quality of this service is very poor as slightly over one-third of households still share toilets and the proportion among Muslims and BPL households is extremely high. The next focus of work, in the post-MDG context, should be to ensure that the proportion of households sharing toilets declines, with a focus once again on BPL and Muslim households. Access to drainage is a problem among SC and ST households and BPL households; hence the focus should be on extending drainage lines in slums, in particular slums without security of tenure. Drainage has to be made either underground or at the very least, covered. Access to a bath is less of a problem than access to toilets and drainage facilities.

Garbage is ubiquitous in urban areas in India and the problem is greater in non-metros and low-income neighbourhoods in metros. While there has been an overall improvement, neighbourhoods with low-income populations and vulnerable groups such as SCs and Muslims remain problematic.

‘Houselessness’ is not an issue in urban India as squatting and informal housing remain possible housing solutions for low-income populations in urban areas. While the absolute number of households living in slums has increased from the 1990s in urban Indiaon account of the process of urbanisation, the proportion of people living in slums has declined. Quality of housing and crowding, besides access to basic services, remain important issues. While on the whole, 92% of households live in pucca houses, 57% of households in slums live in puccahousing. Post-MDGs, there should be a focus on incremental housing and the most important agenda would be to improve the quality of the shelter unit in slums. This can be done through making unsecured credit available for shelter upgradation. The focus should be on households in slum settlements with a large number of BPL households.

Lastly, living conditions in slums have improved between 1993 and 2008-09. But the number of households living in slums has increased since, and is expected to grow. Therefore, improvements in Target 11 should be monitored even during the post-MDG period. The approach should be two-pronged: continuous upgradation of existing settlements, and an increase in the supply of affordable small lots with basic services to low-income households that can then build incremental housing on them.                             (Infochange)


By Darshini Mahadevia

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