Kolkata Slums Monsoon Miseries
It is not the place where someone would like to go the place without proper sanitation, electricity and drinking water. But unfortunately it is the home to nearly one-third of the population living in Kolkata. Meera Khatun, an 18 year-old mother of a two-year old girl child understands the meaning of marriage by moving one slum to another. “After marriage I have moved from a ‘jhoopri’ (plastic roofed) to a ‘basti’ which is asbestos-roofed. My mother’s dream came true.” Meera’s husband Rashid is a rickshaw-puller who came to Kolkata from Murshidabad at the age of twelve after his parent’s death. His idea of a better life implies moving from roadside footpath near Sealdah station to a slum in Park Circus area.
Slums figured in Kolkata
Rashid or Meera is just one among millions of slum dwellers who are victimised by the erroneous policies by the state through the years; silently struggle hard to the most dreadful conditions one can ever think of. Report of the Committee on Slum Statistics/Census clearly shows the population in West Bengal slum areas has been increased by more than 10 lakh in the last ten years. According to Census 2001, Kolkata accounts for a population of 16 lakh living in slums and Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority’s data reveals that there are 2011 registered and 3500 unregistered slums in Kolkata.
Over 40 per cent of Kolkata’s slum residents have been slum dwellers for two generations or longer, and more than half originate from the Kolkata hinterland. With the majority engaged in the informal sector, the average monthly family earnings of Rashid, Haru, Shibu, Babu and many others are sometimes less than Rs 1000. As a result, for more earning, youths end up with illegal activities like making of country liquor or paddling of drugs.
Tenure security is, in principle, not available to the unregistered land encroaching settlements on road sides (jhupri), along canals (khaldhar) or on other vacant land (udbastu). The condition is most awful in the slums along the, Rajarhat, Eastern Bypass, Sealdah, Howrah, Dumdum etc. which have no connection of municipal water. They are overpopulated, roads are narrow, sanitation and ventilation facilities are almost non-existent. Shabana, a 35 year old and a mother of three sons and two girls cooks in few houses nearby for money. “Our living condition becomes the worst during the monsoon when water-logging becomes the major issue. Last week, there was huge rain and till the water is there in our rooms. Without electricity and drinking water, I was unable to go out for work for a week. At the end, I lost jobs in two houses that cost me Rs 800 per month,” she said.
Reason behind the growth
It has been found out in the Global Report on Human settlements 2003 that the urban poor is increasing in number mainly due to in-migration and lack of planned infrastructural facilities. As there is constraint of open space and playgrounds in slums, so children often develop mental illness and physical imbalances.
Policies and actions
Slums in Kolkata have always been seen as a blot on the landscape hampering the health and hygiene of the urban elite. The First, Second and Third Five Year Plans mainly focused on slum eradication and clearance. But such interventional policies could hardly bear any fruits. In fact they could not put an end to the growth of new slums resulting in more unplanned housing structures and germ-infested areas. However there has been implementation of certain schemes and policies by the government and the NGOs which have been partially successful in plummeting urban poverty.
Under the KMC, Kolkata Environmental Improvement Project (KEIP) was launched to provide equitable access to health and drainage facilities and to achieve an all-round improvement of the urban environment. Up to March 2011, the KEIP programme has been of immense help to the slum-occupants, resulting in resettlement of 2810 families in KEIP houses and implementation of major sewage and drainage package. A sample survey comprising of 275 slum households was conducted by Public Affairs Foundation, a non-profit organistion based in Bangalore to study and assess the impact of Kolkata Urban Services for the Poor reforms on slum areas. And it was found out that 61 per cent of them were satisfied with health and water supply services, however there was a lack of progress in solid waste management and drainage system.
Other programmes like the National Slum Development Programme, the National Old- Age Pension Scheme and the National Maternity Benefit Scheme have proved to be effective. The NOPS, funded by the central and the state government, aimed at benefiting people above the age of 65. The NMBS was designed to help pregnant women with two children only.
Loopholes still exist
Although few successes have been achieved by the NGOs and the government, lacunae in the policy of the state government still exists even after the historical change of political power. There is urgent need of the state government to take up long-term strategies to address issues related to slums such as lack of community involvement in planning, implementation and working of various programmes, unauthorised building up of new slums around canals and roads, public awareness programme on slum population, etc. There is a long way to go for Kolkata in order to make itself truly a city of joy for everyone.
Kolkata Bustee Federation has encouraged the residents to believe in themselves and change their lives for the better. Sukharanjan Dey, the Secretary of Kolkata Bustee Federa-tion says that the Federation has always protested against the Slum Clearance Bill since its inception in 1957. It has never accepted displacement of slums as the optimal solution, rather redevelopment of slums with better quality dwelling spaces and civic amenities as a better solution. “The Federation has worked till now in 1005 slums and has been able to provide ventilation and sanitation facilities to thousands of livelihoods,” said Dey.
Under the Kolkata Environmental Improvement Project (KEIP), a new programme called Capacity Building Programme (CBP) has been introduced to strengthen the efficiency of municipal administration and the government of UK has settled on £28.3 million as financial aid over a six-year period to implement the CBP. Up to March 2011, the KEIP programme has been of immense help to the slum-occupants, resulting in resettlement of 2810 families in KEIP houses and implementation of major sewage and drainage package. But this has been only partially successful in elevating the condition of poor slum dwellers.
There is an urgent need to take up long-term strategies to address issues related to slums such as lack of community involvement in planning, implementation and working of the programme, building of unauthorised new slums around canals and roads and public awareness programme on slum population. The rate of migration has increased exponentially. The city is getting more and more congested and the lives of people in the slums more hellish. There is a need for government and NGOs to facilitate the process of self-empowerment of the slum-dwellers.
By S ROY from Kolkata