Very little upward mobility in slums: study

Findings of a seven-year project in which over 4,500 slum-dwellers were interviewed

Published - July 23, 2018 07:39 pm IST

 While the Karnataka State Slum Board recognises 597 slums in the city, analysis of satellite imagery shows that there could be as many as 2,000.

While the Karnataka State Slum Board recognises 597 slums in the city, analysis of satellite imagery shows that there could be as many as 2,000.

For the millions who make their way to the city for a better life, slums are often their first place of residence. However, research in slums have shown that residents are sucked into a cycle of stagnancy.

The seven-year project, which was conducted by Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, interviewed 4,522 slum-dwellers. It was found that over 70% of households had been living in informal settlements of the city for over four generations.

The study builds academic knowledge about slums, many of which continue to be under-reported in official policy. While the Karnataka State Slum Board recognises 597 slums in the city, analysis of satellite imagery shows that there could be as many as 2,000.

Much of the lower-end slums (which have little to no basic amenities and are no more than sheds) have not been counted. Nearly one in three of these ‘lower-end’ slums are not recognised, reveals ‘Studying the Real Slums of Bengaluru’.

No upward mobility

Even among those in notified slums, moving up the social ladder is a rarity. The survey reveals that households who have been in these slums for more than four generations earn just ₹8,000 per month, which is marginally more than a first-generation migrant to the city whose cumulative earnings of his family here is ₹7,158 per month on average. While a majority of the older generation worked as handymen or street vendors, the younger generation work in similarly low-remuneration jobs, such as office clerks or security guards or salesmen.

“This is very concerning. Policy should be geared to create opportunities for greater upward mobility. We’ve found that either the children continue in the same professions as their parents or take up low-paying jobs. There are hardworking, smart people in slums who just cannot earn enough for a better life,” said Anirudh Krishna from Duke University, who has led the research team since the start of the project in 2010.

Findings of the project, which was conducted in partnership with two American Universities (North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina) and the investment firm Omidyar Network, were released at a workshop on Monday.

The stagnancy in slums is evident in terms of amenities too. Satellite imagery of 40 slums between 2000 — when the IT industry was strengthening its hold in the city — and 2015, showed that 60% of the slums had no perceptible change in physical characteristics. Only in three were there significant improvements.

Varied slum policy

Currently, Karnataka and much of the country follow a one-policy-fits-all strategy when it comes to slums. However, researchers analysed 211 slums based on the type of amenities, locations and access, and found a diverse range of slums: 15% were just dense areas of blue tarpaulins or temporary housing. On the other end of the spectrum, 20% of the slums, most notified, had concrete houses and multi-storey residences.

Consequently, the needs are entirely different. At the lower end, less than 9% of the houses have toilets and just 1% have electricity; while, in the upper end, up to 61% had piped water, metered electricity connections and toilets.

“The slum policy should recognise this diversity of slums. Toilets and drinking water are the immediate needs of slums in the lower end while in higher-end slums, employment and work are the requirements,” said Mr. Krishna.

A senior slum board official, who attended the workshop, said considering the political pressures and the challenges in development of slums, a statutory committee was needed to address the issue of slum-dwellers.

The grey land market

A title deed may be in the hands of a few, but an alternate system, away from government regulation and scrutiny, has formed over the decades to transact properties in slums.

Researchers found a staggering 18 types of documents issued by various government agencies, which give various levels of identities to those living in slums. Of these, only an absolute sale deed can be used in sales and is accounted by the State’s exchequer.

In the absence of a way to sell property in non-notified slums, a grey market exists. “Lawyers, real estate agents and slum leaders form this market where affidavits are made, copies of other identity cards are taken, witnesses are brought on to give it a perception of legality. The risk on the buyer is reduced through this. But, the government is deprived out of revenue from these transactions,” said Anirudh Krishna from Duke University.

Their research shows that around 2% of all slum properties were transacted in the year preceding their survey. Such transactions existed in 95% of the 36 slums that were studied in depth.

In a slum with poor quality services and no documentation, the price of a 1 BHK can be as low as ₹1 lakh; but in a notified slum in the centre of the city, with documents given by the slum board but without sale deeds, the average cost is ₹15 lakh, and the figure can go up to ₹53.5 lakh.

Distress sale or relocation to another part of the city were the primary reasons to sell slum properties. “Among those moving to another part of the city, 51% of respondents, who had moved, said that they had done so because their old neighbourhood was too expensive, and 48% because it was too far from work,” says Mr. Krishna.

Satellite imagery to map slums

Considering the rapidly changing landscape and dynamics of the city, satellite imagery may hold the key to understanding the accommodations of the urban poor.

Using a complex series of machine learning algorithms, Raju Vatsavai, Associate Professor at the NC State University in the US, and his team, analysed satellite imagery to estimate, with 70% accuracy, that the city had 2,000 slums.

“This sort of approach can allow for a real-time monitoring of informal settlements and help to manage them,” said Mr. Vatsavai.

With modern satellite technology providing better resolution images and software that can analyse them in real time, Uday Raj, Chief General Manager, National Remote Sensing Centre, ISRO, says these technologies are being requisitioned by civic bodies to monitor their vast government properties against encroachments.

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