Indian cities thrive off the labor of the poor - domestic work, auto rickshaw drivers, street vendors, employees of small industries and shops, and more. Yet, governments - including the city of Chennai - have repeatedly failed to make affordable land available for them within a reasonable distance of their livelihoods. This has led to burgeoning informal settlements called slums, as migrants to the city squat on government owned lands and reclaim wastelands to build homes for themselves, find work, and improve their conditions.
Till 1985, 1,219 slums had been identified and recognised or “declared” by the Tamil Nadu government. “Declaration” resulted in the improvement of access to basic services in line with the progressive policy of ‘in-situ’ development provided for in the Tamil Nadu Slums (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1971. These investments have resulted in many of the original slum dwellers in these declared settlements being able to pull themselves permanently out of poverty, and led to them making extensive investments in their own homes and neighborhoods that improved local services and allowed them to earn higher incomes through rentals and household industries.
However, since 1985 no more slums have been declared or improved. The government’s strategy, enabled by unprecedented central government spending in the urban sector, has been to instead construct large-scale resettlement colonies on the fringes of the city, to which slum-dwellers from central city areas are systematically evicted. These ghettos are far from residents’ sources of livelihood, good schools and health facilities, and opportunities for improvement. According to our research, at least 150,000 people have been evicted from their homes in the last 10 years alone. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of city dwellers live in undeclared slums that have developed in the last three decades, or have existed for much longer and were never declared. These city-dwellers continue to languish without basic services like running water and toilets, and live in constant fear of eviction. The survey commissioned by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board in 2014 to prepare the Rajiv Awas Yojana Slum Free City Plan of Action gave the last count of slums in the city as 2,173 and 29% of the population of Chennai resides in slums as per the 2011 census.
Our work aims at collecting and disseminating information about slums and informal settlements and their access to basic services to support advocacy for the right of the urban poor to the city, its resources, and its spaces. We work with a network of slum-based organisations, researchers, and activists to advocate for more inclusive and equitable policies towards slums and informal settlements.