Why we do 'slum' profiles

Jockin Arputham, the founder of the National Slum Dwellers Federation in India, explains the benefits of developing a slum-dweller led strategy for securing land tenure and services.

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Jockin Arputham
Jockin Arputham is president of Slum/Shack Dwellers International. This was drawn from an interview with David Satterthwaite from IIED's Human Settlements Group
22 February 2016
It is estimated that Mumbai has the largest slum population of any city in the world, with more than half of its 12 million people living in informal settlements (Photo: Jon Baldock, Creative Commons via Flickr)

It is estimated that Mumbai has the largest slum population of any city in the world, with more than half of its 12 million people living in informal settlements (Photo: Jon Baldock, Creative Commons via Flickr)

One of the most difficult issues for slum dwellers is to avoid eviction – and beyond this to get secure tenure of the land their homes occupy. Two federations of 'slum' dwellers in India have developed a new strategy for getting more secure tenure and services by negotiating with ward and district level governments.  

Developed by the National Slum Dwellers Federation and Mahila Milan, the Indian federation of women slum and pavement dweller savings groups in Mumbai, it will be extended to other cities. 

The strategy centres on federation members preparing detailed profiles of each 'slum' and the neighbourhood in which they are located. Without this data, it is difficult for the federations to negotiate with government agencies.

This data provides the basis for negotiating more secure tenure and basic services – and full incorporation into the city. This may include returning some land to the land owner or government in return for tenure of the rest of the land they occupy.

Undertaking slum profiles

The federations' approach is designed to engage and support slum residents and their organisations to learn about their slum and the ward it is in. With clear maps and details of (for instance) tenure, housing conditions and services, residents can have more tangible discussions about their priorities.

The information from a slum profile means that residents can start asking about what the local priorities are – for example water, toilets, land, waste collection, housing or drains. And it provides local governments with data that they are unable to collect themselves.

The slum profile includes details of how many households, where they come from, what services they have and the number of structures and slum pockets. It also counts toilets and water taps, measures small and larger scale open spaces and green areas and identifies where bus stops and police stations are.

Talking to residents who have lived there a long time gives more details on their background: where they have come from; what languages are spoken; what are the main sources of employment; who works for government, for the formal private sector; who works in informal enterprises or is self-employed; who is on welfare.

Details of incomes, economic activities and savings mean that the amount available in savings, the capacity to pay for improvements and the level of contributions the community can make, can all be worked out. When all the information is collected, it is presented to community leaders in each settlement.  

This process is open to everyone in each slum – and this can develop a budget for upgrading that all can see.

Securing tenure

This process is now being extended so that grassroots organisations also collect the data needed to negotiate for secure tenure. This includes details on the land area occupied and the total area (including details of open space). It also gives details of where land has been encroached and allows solutions to be discussed.

For instance, how much of the land could be returned to the government if the current population was rehoused in apartments? How much land is needed to bring in the water and sewer pipes and all weather roads and paths?

With accurate numbers, it is so much easier to negotiate. There may be solutions that do not need external funding. Or we may be able to build enough units to enable some to be sold, and so cover the costs of upgrading the whole slum.

The data from the settlement profiles are presented to local government allowing local (ward and district) level government (civil servants and politicians) to engage. Residents start to understand what they can demand from the state, how they can be protected from eviction and they learn how to interact with local politicians and administration. In Mumbai, there are 27 wards and each ward has several municipal councillors (often called corporators). 

Smaller slums face greater difficulties in getting their needs addressed. For instance, a slum with only 50 residents will struggle to get support for a community toilet. 

So to help the smaller slums that have less votes and influence, we club all the slums in a ward together and involve all of them in negotiations.

City-wide issues

Doing slum profiles for all the wards and districts provides good data for the city. It also provides a baseline for slum dwellers against which progress can be assessed.  

The surveys also encourage more slum dwellers to join the federations – and helps empower all slum communities to organise and find out more about their settlement and ward.

But they must take responsibility for this. NGOs should not take over these tasks.

Otherwise what is a political issue (strengthening slum dwellers' negotiating ability with their local governments) turns into a technical issue and loses its power and much of its legitimacy.

Jockin Arputham has been fighting for the rights of slum dwellers for nearly 50 years. He founded the first national slum dweller federation in India in 1976 and spent over 20 years supporting slum and shack dwellers federations to form and grow in over 30 other countries. He is president of Slum/Shack Dwellers International. This blog was drawn from an interview with David Satterthwaite from IIED's Human Settlements Group