Slum Dwellers in Indian Cities: The Case of Surat in Western India

Date: Aug, 1997
ODID Working Paper No. 7
Author(s): Biswaroop Das (Centre for Social Studies, South Gujarat University Campus, India)

Among the many problems associated with urban growth in India, an increase in the proportion of slums and squatters especially in its 'metros' and other large cities has been prominent. Generally, such locations are inhabited by the poor and their growth has often occurred independent of any surge in prosperity through large- scale industrialization. Hence the level of urbanization (ie the percentage of urban to total population) and the rate of urban expansion (ie the percentage increase in the urban population) may not always be caused by the 'pull' of economic prosperity and opportunity in the cities; it is sometimes caused by the push from the rural areas due to significant changes in the mode of production in agriculture... in which there is a steady increase in the proportion of the rural population who are compelled to seek a living outside agriculture.

Even with variations in their approach and emphasis resulting from the context and cities examined, most studies recognize the role of migration of the rural poorer sections in search of work and their frequently joining the lower circuits of the labour market and subsequent living in congested and degraded spaces within cities.

Placed within this context, the present paper is aimed at portraying a broad economic profile of slum dwellers as well as extent of availability of some essential services within such localities in the city of Surat in the western Indian state of Gujarat, and through this provides a broad imagery of the living conditions of the urban poor. Based on the assumption that an economic profile (by which it is meant to describe the nature and composition of work-force; types of occupation that such dwellers remain engaged in; the manner in which the entire work-force as a whole and different 'migrant' groups within it generally respond to the labour market and differentials in their income as well as possession of household items), would not only provide a snapshot of their material resource base, but also help in sieving out important aspects and issues related to the poor and poverty in urban India, the paper is divided in seven sections.

While the first section deals with various 'definitions' of slums, the second outlines the dominant contours of Surat's economic history that bears a continuity in its present day economic character and labour market organization. The third section records the recent growth in its slum population, the fourth gives a brief account of the environmental condition and extent of availability of some of the basic services in such localities, the fifth deals with a description of the slum work force; occupations; labour mobility and income, the sixth describes the extent of and variations in ownership of select household items and the last section identifies certain policy related theoretical issues emerging out of the description.

ODID Author(s)