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by Saabira Chaudhuri

A UN-Habitat report entitled State of the World Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide, praises India and China for taking “giant strides to improve slums,” stating: “Together, they have lifted at least 125 million out of slums between 1990 and 2010.”

The report says that India has lifted 59.7 million people out of slum conditions since 2000, pointing out that slum prevalence fell from 41.5% in 1990 to 28.1% in 2010 — a relative decrease of 32%. Data is drawn from the census and household surveys.

Miloon Kothari, former special rapporteur on adequate housing for the UN Human Rights Council, calls the findings “politically naïve,” pointing out that the report does not look at how slum prevalence has reduced or where this population of former slum dwellers has resettled.

According to Gora Mboup, Senior Demographic & Health Expert at UNHABITAT : “The reduction of the slum population/proportion should be interpreted that households have more access to basic services included in the slum definition.”

In an email interview with Mint, Mboup explains that the report’s findings on India are based on the following: improved drinking water source, improved sanitation facility, durability of housing, sufficient living area and secure tenure.

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Those familiar with India’s slum dwellers however, are skeptical about UNHABITAT’s methodology. Dunu Roy, director of the Hazards Center in New Delhi points out that there is no indication as to how these indicators were estimated – what the source of the data is and whether it was independently cross checked. “There should be data to show that at some stage earlier (the date has to be specified) there were ‘x’% households without these services (water, sanitation, shelter, area, and tenure as given in the indicators) and this has now come down to ‘y’% households (where ‘y’ is less than ‘x’). So the question of estimation methodology is even more pertinent,” he says.

Roy states that the indicators themselves are questionable, pointing out that money spent on laying pipes or constructing toilet blocks doesn’t imply that there is water in these pipes or to flush these toilets.

The UNHABITAT report raises the issue of whether big picture reports by organizations that often have a tendency to be dissociated from their grassroots counterparts have any value, or whether they merely serve to create a distorted image of a nation’s development.

A recent Housing and Land Rights Network report highlights how the Delhi authorities are demolishing slums in preparation for the upcoming Commonwealth Games – often without proper notice or providing alternative allotment .

Additionally, a WHO official has stated that new slums are emerging as tens of thousands of migrant labourers working at CWG sites are staying in illegal colonies, while Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit has predicted: “We will have about 30 lakh homeless in the city after the Games.”

Perhaps the UN-HABITAT should send a team to India to do some grassroots reconnaissance to figure out whether our country deserves to be applauded for taking “giant strides to improve slums.”

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