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Slum Networking - A Holistic Approach for Improvement of Urban Infrastructure and Environment

The Problem

Rapid urbanization has led to an alarming deterioration in the quality of life of the city dwellers in India. Cities suffer multiple problems such as:

  • infrastructure deficiencies
  • poor sanitation and solid waste disposal
  • water shortages
  • polluted natural water courses
  • water logging in monsoons frequent epidemics
  • inadequate health care
  • depletion of green areas
  • poor roads and transportation
  • dust and air pollution
  • proliferation of slums
  • growing illiteracy,
  • lack of support for socially and economicaly disadvantaged communities

The aggregate impact of the distress is especially debilitating for the urban poor living in slums.

The Case of Indore

As a leading Industrial city, Indore exercises a great pull on the adjoining hinter lands. This, coupled with the natural increases in population, has meant that the city has seen a mushrooming growth of slums with unhygienic living conditions. Although the city population doubled from 1971 to 1991, the slum population almost quadrupled over the same period. In 1991, the population of the city was 1.25 million out of which slum dwellers accounted for 0.35 million.

As per a 1990 survey, over two thirds of the slum families lived below the poverty line earning less than RS. 1000 per month. Suppressing the age group 0-5 years, about 40 percent of the slum dwellers were illiterate. Although 86 percent of the slum families were served by the public water distribution system, the supply was mainly by the public taps and not individual connections. Others used alternative sources of water such as wells, hand hand pumps. About 76 percent of families were theoretically served by public or individual toilets. However, most of the public toilets which served 68 percent of the household were ill maintained and unusable.


The Case of Baroda

The scenario in Baroda is not much different. In the last two decades the population of the city has doubled whereas the jump in the slum population has been almost four and half times. About 40 percent of males and 71 percent of females in Baroda slums are illiterate. Poor health and education reflects in the low monthly income. Approximately 58 percent of the families earn less than the minimum wages of RS. 1,000 per month.

The civic amenities in the slum are equally poor. as per a 1982 survey, 27 percent of families did not have access to safe drinking water and 72 percent households did not have latrines. about 50 percent of slum settlements do not have paved roads and most have no storm drainage. At the city level, Baroda's water courses are highly polluted. In the monsoons, the city gets flooded in spite of a good terrain because the streams interconnecting a series of natural retention ponds to the river have been blocked in places by insensitive development.

The Case of Ahemdabad

In Ahemdabad as per the 1991 census, out of the city population of 2.88 million, 1.17 million persons lived in 2,412 slums and chawls (tenement shanties). The chawls which were built primarily to house Industrial workers had the most minimal facilities and the housing stock and the services have subsequently deteriorated to very poor conditions.

It is estimated that about 500,000 slum dwellers in Ahemdabad have no toilet facilities and defecate in the open. The condition of the public toilets is far from satisfactory with about 70 percent nonfunctional at any given time. The slums in existence prior to 1976 have water supply through stand posts or individual connections, though the water pressure is generally poor. The slums that came up later lack this facility substantially and get water from shallow hand pumps or fetch it from long distances. The water often gets contaminated by contact with surface water and open drains. Many slums in the city are not connected by sewers to the city system and in the peripheral areas where the city drains are not yet laid, the condition is even worse. This is compounded by the fact that many of the internal areas are unpaved and also without storm drainage. In monsoons these slums became quite treacherous. As many of the slums are on private lands, the corporation is not responsible for street sweeping and the garbage collection in these areas.


The Concept of Slum Networking

Slum networking is a method for integrated upgradation of the entire city using the slums as an urban net and not as isolated islands.

The spatial spread of slums over a city together with contiguity between slum settlements gives an opportunity to strengthen the city level infrastructure networks. There is a close correlation between the slum locations and the natural drainage path of a city. This helps to build up low cost service trunks, particularly for gravity based systems of sewerage and storm drainage, together with environmental improvements such as creation of fresh water bodies, cleaning up of polluted rivers, development of green pedestrian spines and restoration of waterfront structures.

The slums naturally benefit from the improved city level support. For the city too, the slums offer opportunities of change through this symbiotic process.

Unconventional concepts such as topography management, earth degradation and constructive landscaping are introduced. The service infrastructure is simplified and modified so that individual services (instead of shared facilities) can be offered to slum families at low costs. At the same time the maintenance burden is reduced and can be shifted from the local government to individual householders.

The Approach

This prescribed strategy, requires sensitive and intense participation of the public in its development process . NGO's plays an important role in motivating the communities, mobilizing resources from the slum dwellers and converging the efforts of the people with the inputs from the local government and the business community of the city. The mechanism involved for community interaction can be extended for health, education and income generation programs. The net effect is holistic development which changes the functional, physical, socioeconomic and environmental qualities of a city at a fraction of the costs of a conventional approach.

An iterative design process is adopted with the preparation of alternative sketch proposals for discussions with community groups. Once a broad consensus is reached, the details of chosen options are then formed up in joint consultation. The process not only prepares the communities for the changes to come but also increases their willingness to pay for and maintain the systems. Partnership agreements between community organizations and municipal corporations are drawn up to maintain the services, and a number of slum communities are involved in garbage collection and cleaning of roads and drains in their areas.

This method ties up the micro level improvements with the whole city and in the process makes possible solutions which are otherwise mutually exclusive.

Networking, though a more sensitive and painstaking process, essentially involves a constructive intervention rather than replacement. Because of it's incremental nature it consumes lesser resources. Topography and land management coupled with the locational attributes of the slums with respect to the water courses and low lying areas tend to form the nuclei around which slums cluster. By sensitive treatment of these lands several advantages are possible.

Site topography has a powerful influence on the layout and functioning of the gravity based infrastructures. Coordinating the roads, storm drainage and sewerage to natural gradients results in better functions and economy. The surface cleanliness of the margins is achieved with grading and planting instead of expensive paving. As far as possible, all roads are placed so as to have a positively downward slope from the high points of the water courses. The road edges are protected by curbs.

For the reason of hygiene, open sewers have not been considered. The piped sewerage proposed is designed to carry both the sewerage and foul water. In view of the scarcity of water in cities concerned, nodular networks are used to increase the flows and at same time reduce the number of manholes. Expensive appurtenances such as drop manholes and vent shafts are omitted by making suitable changes in the design. The inspection chambers for the house connections, which account for a large part of the sewerage cost, are replaced by small, inexpensive intercepting traps developed specially for the projects. By using the natural grades, pumping was avoided which reduced the capital, running and maintenance costs.

For water supply, selective repair and upgradation is preferred to the total replacement. New networks are proposed only in the remote or newly developed sites. The existing hand pumps and wells are salvaged and integrated into the system to the extent possible.

Thoughtful planting can improve the micro environment of the settlements. Shade trees cool the streets in the summer and at the same time reduce the dust in the air. Landscaping attenuates the rain peaks, resulting in smaller pipe sizes of storm drains. The decorative trees and the flowering plants add to the beauty. Vegetable, herb and fruit yielding plants, in addition, supplement the daily needs of the families. Earth management and grassing very significantly reduce the costs of roads and pavings, the most expensive components of urban infrastructure. Moreover, the work is undertaken directly by the communities because they have the knowledge and the sensitivity towards the surrounding environment.


The Impact

In a project executed by Indore Development Authority, and financed by Overseas development Administration, UK, the slum networking concept has been demonstrated successfully in the city of Indore.

Over a period of six years, the slum matrix of the city covering 450,000 persons has been upgraded with high quality environmental and sanitation improvement together with extensive community development programme related to health, education and income generation. The quantum of physical work in each slum pocket may be small but the aggregate impact of all the interventions is high on the city as a whole. table below shows the accumulated totals of all the new infrastructure and environmental improvements planned in the slums of Indore.

New Infrastructure in Slums of Indore

Total length of new roads 360 Ams.
Total length of new sewer lines 300 Kms.
Total length of new storm drains 50 Kms.
Total length of new water lines 240 Kms.
New trees to be planned 120,000 .
Total area of grassing/shrubbing 500,000 sq.m.
New community halls 158 .

A midterm evaluation of the Indore project showed that 79 neighborhood committees have already registered under the Societies Registration Act and 70 youth clubs formed. Many slums are heading towards full literacy, frequency of epidemics has dramatically reduced, and incomes, particularly of women, have increased. The cost of improvements in Indore slums are a fraction of the conventional methods and the benefits extend go beyond the slum fabric. Indore shows that it is possible to address the problem of the urban poor, in terms of the physical and socioeconomic environment and at micro and macro scales, parallel to infrastructure and environmental improvements of the city as a whole.

In evolution of the slum networking concept in Ramdevnagar slum of Baroda, substantial proportion of the development funds (over 50 percent) are being raised internally from the slum dwellers. In a pilot project covering 4,000 persons, RS. 2.2 millions have been mobilized by the slum dwellers themselves with a matching support from UNICEF, Baroda Municipal Corporation and the local Industry.

In Ahemdabad, the slum networking approach has been taken one stage further by replacing external aid by contributions from the city's Industries so as to augment the resource needs of both the slum dwellers as well as the municipal corporation.

Over 70 percent of the Ahemdabad slums are located on the private lands, the rest being on municipal and government lands. Although ownership of land is not to be made a precondition of the project, it avoids legal and administrative delays, Ahemdabad Municipal Corporation has the statuary right to install essential services in private lands. In this situation the corporation has passed the resolution not to evict the slum dwellers for 10 years and at the same time to register them formally as rate payers. These two measures imply sufficient perceived security of tenure for the slum dwellers to invest heavily in their shelter from their own resources. At a suitable juncture, the corporation will also consider bringing the private land owners and the slum dwellers on the same table to discuss land transfer on mutually agreeable terms.


Key organizations and contact persons

Indore Developmen t Authority (IDA)
Race Course Road,
Indore - 452003
Baroda Municipal Corporation
Khanderao Mark
Baroda - 390001
Ahemdabad Municipal Corporation
Sardar Patel Bhawan
Ahemdabad - 380001
Prof. Himanshu H. Parikh
Consulting Engineers
2 - Sukhshanti, Ambawadi Circle
Ahemdabad - 380006


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Last updated March 19, 1999. This web site is maintained by Urban Management Center.