NEW DELHI (AP) Millions of Indians are forced to live in squalid slums, not because they are impoverished, but because city planners have failed to build low-cost alternatives, a government report said Tuesday, warning the problem was getting worse. As India's economy has boomed in recent years, India's predominantly rural population has flocked to the cities hoping to get a slice of the growing prosperity.
A massive shortage of affordable housing has left many no choice but to live in makeshift tenements with few if any basic utilities, according to the country's first report on urban poverty. Housing projects would provide residents properly constructed homes, linked to basic infrastructure like sewage, electricity and running water.
That kind of housing would be in sharp contrast to the slums that dot most major India cities, with their endless warrens of small houses and shops built of corrugated metal, cement and tarpaulins, public latrines and tangles of electric wiring, often illegally linked to the main power lines. "The pace of urbanization in India is set to increase, and with it, urban poverty and urban slums," said Kumari Selja, India's Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation said before releasing the report that was supported by the United Nations.
India's slums have been in the international spotlight recently since the success of the Oscar favorite "Slumdog Millionaire," the rags-to-riches tale of poor boy rising from the slums of Mumbai. While the film has won accolades overseas, it has been criticized in India for focusing on India's slums the country's ugly side.
But these slums will only grow unless significant steps are taken to build millions of low-cost homes for those flocking to the cities who are "unable to procure shelter through legal market transactions," the report said. The report estimates by 2030, some 50 percent of Indians will live in cities, up from 28 percent currently.
With the population already touching 1.1 billion, the challenge is huge. Already, about one quarter of city dwellers are living "in slums amidst squalor, crime disease and tension," the report said.
The report, commissioned to try and provide a strategy for urban development, said the major problem until today has been one of vision, not resources. "There has been no political or bureaucratic will to utilize the available land for housing slum dwellers," the report said, noting the only work done in regard to slums had been occasional demolitions during city beautification drives.
But, unless there was a clear change in policy the gaps between the urban rich and poor would only grow, officials said. "The challenge is to provide basic services to the urban poor and slum dwellers without letting the elite capture all the benefits," Selja said.