Indian City Slum Areas Become Newly Desirable Places to Live

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


With India’s urban economy experiencing rapid growth, its slums – once seen as the most undesirable places to live in the country, if not on Earth – are attracting the attention of affluent residents and developers inIndia’s rapidly expanding cities. The prosperity inIndia’s cities has made these areas’ proximity to business and entertainment zones highly desirable. In turn, this has led to slum dwellers either upgrading their homes and in the process boosting their value, or being offered the opportunity to sell their rudimentary dwellings to real estate agents and property developers.

For some, this could be a great leap forward in income and opportunity; for others, it could mean exploitation and hard choices, weighing up the cash boost against moving out of the slum area.

How to best handle slum areas in urban and peri-urban communities will be a major challenge for most countries in the South as they continue to urbanize.

India’s phenomenal economic growth rate – forecast to be 7.9 percent this year by the Asian Development Bank, after averaging 7.7 percent per year over the past decade – has been the force behind an expanding middle class population, now estimated at 50 million people (McKinsey). Forecasts see it swelling from 5 percent ofIndia’s population to 40 percent by 2025.

With 30 percent of the population living in urban areas and cities contributing 60 percent of the country’s GDP and 90 percent of government revenues (Wall Street Journal), city-dwellers’ fate is critical to the functioning of the economy.

According to the 2001 Indian census, slums make up 25 percent of all housing and 26 percent of urban households lack access to sanitation facilities.

But Indu Prakash Vaidya, a 32-year-old housewife, is part of new trend inIndia’s city slums. Vaidya lives in a small shanty house in Mumbai with no running water, no sewage services and a jerry-rigged electrical connection.

Vaidya’s home is a just a single room for the five people in her family. They sleep on the cement floor and the ‘kitchen’ is a two-burner gas stove. The dwelling is so poorly constructed that they have to move around inside the room when it rains outside to avoid getting soaked.

But her humble home has been valued at US $24,000 by people looking to buy it.

According to real estate agent Hari Ram, the average price of a 91 square metre shanty home in Mumbai is now US $46,000.

“Shanties as small as 120 square feet… are as expensive as US $93,000,” Dinesh Prabhu, a construction company owner, told NDTV television.

Sixty percent of Mumbai’s 21 million people live in slums. And many are now finding themselves the subject of a property boom. This has led to the bizarre spectacle of luxury high-rise buildings sprouting up in a sea of slum housing. The slums are attracting the attention of those with money because many busy city workers face long commutes and are desperate for homes closer to work and entertainment areas.

The value of living close to the action is summed up by one slum dweller:

“People would kill to be in a place like this,” said slum dweller Sundar. “There are four local train stations close by. And the bus stop is a stone’s throw away.”

Some say this real estate boom offers enormous potential for the poor.

“All I can say is, given the current real-estate rates, those slums are invaluable,” said Sharad Mahajan of the Pune-based nonprofit organization Mashal (  Mashal focuses on the problem of urban shelter and also implements housing projects. It has been working in the Dharavi slum area with theMaharashtra government on its redevelopment. The slum is well-known for its representation in the film Slumdog Millionaire, and the area is next to the Bandra-Kurla Complex business district of Mumbai. Mashal has been mapping the area, home to 60,000 families, to make sure the redevelopment is fair to the families living there.

Land tenure is an issue however. Many slum dwellers do not have official title to the land they live on. Over time, they have become semi-official places to live as governments have hooked many up to electricity and drinking water. Issues of corruption and exploitation are also other problems that need addressing if this real estate windfall is to actually benefit slum dwellers.

Typical slum dwellers are day labourers and poor migrants. But others are people who good easily afford to live somewhere else but don’t want the long commutes to work.

“It is simpler and less expensive to live here,” said Sankaralingam, a plastic merchant, who estimates his annual income at around US $9,300: an amount that could get him a home somewhere nicer.

For Indu Prakash Vaidya, the dilemma – to sell or not to sell – makes for some painful choices. While her current home is prone to flooding during the rainy season, she feels she would have nowhere else to go if she sold the home.

Yet the pressure to sell is great and elemental.

“I have three children, and their education and well-being need to be taken care of. Financial constraints can push me to sell this shanty in the future, then where will I live? I will have nowhere to go,” she told NDTV. 


1) New documentary Urbanized gives a passionate over-view of the challenges facing the rapidly urbanizing world around us. Website:

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