10 great ideas which can empower the Indian Slums

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India has one of the biggest slums in the world. It is wildly famous as many tourists who come to visit India are always curious to pay a visit to this area. It is known as Dharavi. However, slum culture does not reflect a progressive society so, here are ten ways to empower Indian slums.

Eradicate Illegal Occupation

Illegal occupation of private and government sectors has ruled the landscape of developing nations for decades now. The squatter problem gave rise to the concept of property arose and acknowledge the rights to private property to protect it.  The land in the wild areas was once free for all but today they are mostly owned by the government unless specifically delegated to an individual. However, it is a common phenomenon to find encroachers in Indian slums who occupy such property when nobody has any use for it. As time passes by with illegal enterprise, hard-earned savings, and initiatives slum dwellers invest huge value into the property. Once, there is a value attached to the property, the nurturers won’t let go of it easy. The elites view encroachers as lawless elements violating an orderly system of property acquisitions. The need to differentiate between the principal act of encroachment, which is illegal and subsequent transactions carried out by the encroacher is vital. This does not equate to justifying encroachment. The onus is on the governments to protect the property and also allow a reasonable time for the encroachers to move out. However, over a period of time, slum dwellers can gather huge chunks of investments and savings, making it imperative to bring this potential capital under the formal system in the larger interest of the nation. The key lies in eradicating illegal businesses amongst the sum dwellers to bring a solution to the squatter issue. 

Converting Assets 

The idea is to convert the assets of the poor section of the society and create a formal economic structure. This will turn the informal economy into a full-fledged capital in the formal economic setting in a way that the existing capital becomes capable of multiple uses in the larger economy. The incomes generated by the poor dwelling at the bottom of the income pyramid have a much higher growth momentum in terms of pace and spread. The idea is creating a way to add to the existing economy and increase its production and efficiency in Indian slums. 

Eradicating Slum Culture

Yes, it may sound bizarre in the context of empowering slums, but this is probably the most crucial way to empower the slum dwellers who reside in slums across the country. Will regularising slums, and bringing in the assets cycling in there into the capital stock of the economy, help? Or will it dissolve slums by leading in faster economic growth for people in the slums?  The answer to the question is simple but has to be understood carefully. First of all, bringing in assets under the legal eco-system for transactions and business will increase the stock of the economy three to five-folds, which will in turn be of enormous benefit to the slum dwellers. Now, some of this income can be taxed. The government can then use the taxes to uplift infrastructure in the slums in various areas like sanitation, access to utilities, roads, better living conditions, etc. These processes will work in a manner that will increase the wealth, prosperity, and living conditions of the residents in slums. This will also give a huge boost to the economy.  Over time, the income will increase in the generations to come and the wealth of those who live in the slums will help them upgrade their quality of life. Therefore, dissolving the slum itself. Needless to say, this process will effectively aid the secondary market businesses that provide a firm base for assets and value of the slum dwellers.

Politically driven Agendas

No policy or changes can be made in a nation without political motivation and steps. The idea to empower slums requires perfect strategy, planning, and implementation. The idea of regularising Indian slums or encroachment of properties is not new. There is a lack of a defined process of incorporation of property, businesses, and overall functioning of life in slums. The ones residing at the bottom of the pyramid are also complacent with the poverty and harsh economic conditions. This is because accurate political motivation has never been there. This prevents the governments from systematically spending in the public infrastructure of the slums. This is the main reason why slums have been existing on the face of this nation for decades now. Capturing value through taxes is of no good if it is not put to good use. The results are disruption, delay, and waste of taxes and usable capital for the betterment of society. Politically driven agendas and election manifestos can have the process of converting the informal property into the larger stock of the capital. This will also ensure the end of encroachment. Once the titles of property ownership are declared and clearly stated, residents will then have the freedom to cash out by selling off the properties in the secondary market, which is also subjected to impact tax. To fast-track political support, the process of development should be given utmost priority. This will naturally upgrade the slum system and dissolve it faster than ever. 


Empowering slums through education is the most viable way to go about it. This will result in the changing lives of thousands of children belonging to underprivileged sections of the society. Education can empower the poor section with knowledge and awareness about all aspects of life. It will usher intelligence, logical thinking, and decision-making capabilities. Education can nurture young minds to cultivate entrepreneurship hence, keeping them from going astray.  The aim is to make sure slum children are provided with quality education and holistic development. There is also a need to keep a check on the dropout rate which is usually very high amongst those from the poor strata of society. Making primary education available to slum dwellers free of cost is the first step, to begin with. It will allow children, with parents who primarily work as rag pickers, labourers, and do other menial jobs, to get an education. Education is the only way to shape young minds. The federations should have engaged in projects to build infrastructure, schools, and facilities to provide services in-turn create new income-earning prospects. They should demonstrate approaches to reducing urban poverty by educating the slum dwellers on cost-effective and sustainable living.  Local bodies can work along with governments and international agencies to implement these approaches. Education most importantly, will give a sense of freedom and help in earning a living through a worthwhile job, resulting in uplifting overall standards of living.

Rural-Urban Migration

During the last two decades, migration from villages and small towns to metropolitan areas has increased tremendously in India. This leads to the degradation of urban environmental conditions and sustainable development in the cities. This also gives rise to Indian slum culture and population. This is mainly a two-fold problem. One, the rural population is not able to make a living out of their resident town/village and is, therefore, relocating to urban areas, the other is the problems faced by urban dwellers as slums are considered to be major havoc. There are various issues related to health, safety, transportation, etc. Slums are often considered the breeding ground of disease, crimes, and pollution as there is an immense lack of safety and hygiene infrastructure. The local bodies need to work with governments and create policies and scope for better work in rural areas too. Agriculture cannot be the only option when it comes to rural occupation. Markets and businesses need to penetrate those rural areas and create opportunities for the masses. Poor house planning and lack of affordable housing options in the urban areas encourage the formation of slums. Social exclusion and limited resources force the migrated population to take shelter in slums. For empowering the rural population, it is important to create opportunities for a better standard of living. This will significantly reduce the migration wave from rural to urban areas therefore, put less pressure on big cities to cope with the constant population influx.

Eradicate Poverty

The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), India, defines a slum as a “Compact settlement with a collection of poorly built tenements, mostly of temporary nature, crowded together usually with inadequate sanitary and drinking water facilities in unhygienic conditions”. Indian slums are a real tough environment to survive in. Poverty forces a large chunk of India’s population to these living conditions. Without amendments and policies carved to remove poverty, Indian slums will remain and any steps towards the empowerment of the people in slums will not yield results. The informal economy which is neither registered as a business nor licensed encourages tax evasions and mostly not monitored by any governing body. Informal businesses give rise to illegal activities which is one of the major blockers to eradicate poverty. This makes the poor of the society dwell in poverty and stops the system from empowering them. Poverty keeps increasing as there is more employment in the urban sector. People migrate from rural areas and settle down in slums which increases poverty in urban areas. The urban poor comes to the big city with hope for employment and better facilities but instead ends up being a part of a deadly loop of poverty. 

See More: The Perils of Energy Poverty

International Bodies and NGO’s 

The role of international bodies and NGO’s in the development of Indian slums insubstantial. India is one of the booming economies of the globe. Although huge sections of its economy operate from the shadows. The labyrinthine Indian slums are comprised of poor infrastructure, shanties, and close to one million people live and work on an area barely the size of a small apartment complex. International bodies/ Ngo’s can work closely with local bodies and the slum dwellers to build infrastructure and provide basic amenities or life. Ngo’s alone can take up the task of various slum-upgrading projects to create better housing solutions. Working in close associations with governments and corporations undertaking social responsibility initiatives.

Women-centric Initiatives

Women have a central role in all aspects of life. Most of the urban poor federations can work with the women community of Indian slums in reaching out to tens of thousands of women and build on income-generating projects for women. Empowering women with earning capabilities will create a better future for the upcoming generations as well. These tools and methods developed are participatory in two ways. First, in the sense of encouraging and supporting the widespread involvement of women groups in income generation activities.  Second, in ensuring that the organizations of the employing women community can design and implement special businesses that require women to work on them. 

See More: Sustainable Menstruation for Women

Encouraging a system of Savings and Credit 

In Indian slums, community-based savings and credit groups are very popular among the low-income group. It works in a way in which each member saves a day’s earnings and that forms the cooperatives of the women of Indian slum and pavement dwellers. They are the adhesive that holds the federation together. There is no mentioned minimum amount that savers have to contribute each day, savers can contribute according to their budget. These groups particularly attract women are particularly because of area great help in times of crisis, as they provide loan facilities. These savings associations are managed by local area resource centres. This also creates a pace for all kinds of community discussions and initiatives.

See Also: List of Slums in India.

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