Ahmedabad, India

by Mihir R. Bhatt


Ahmedabad has been a trading city throughout history. Eastern Ahmedabad, within the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) limits, but outside of the walled city, was the first area to industrialize, with textile mills near the railway. The earliest low-income housing were the chawls, single-room housing units built for the industrial workers. Chawls mushroomed as the accommodation for the (migrant) workers during the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. Controls kept rentals extremely low, discouraging maintenance, and many chawls deteriorated rapidly. This was particularly the case following a crisis in the textile industry and the closure of the factories. From the 1950s onwards, urban growth largely took place in the eastern and, particularly, the western urban peripheries, where illegal occupation of marginal areas represents the housing option for newly arrived migrants and other economically weaker urban groups.

Although migrants who arrived after independence largely settled in informal settlements at the urban periphery, chawls are still present in large numbers. Eastern Ahmedabad has about 44 per cent of the total housing units in the AMC region, with 54.8 per cent of the total dwelling units in the category of chawls and slums. It accounts for 75 per cent of the chawl units and 47 per cent of the slum units in the city.

In the case study, a slum is defined as a compact area with a collection of poorly built tenements, mostly of a temporary nature, crowded together and usually with inadequate sanitary and drinking water facilities in unhygienic conditions.

There are two dominant types of low-income residential areas found in the city: chawls residential units, originally built in the mill premises for workers, and slums that represent illegal occupation of marginal areas of the city. The latter typically lack facilities and basic amenities and are found along riverfronts, in low-lying areas, on vacant private or government land.

Tenure patterns and percentages are unclear but are closely related to the possession of a ration card (71 to 75 per cent of households) and/or an AMC photo pass (2.5 to 10 per cent of households). Close to 28 per cent had neither and their tenure status remains undefined. These figures roughly appear to reflect the following percentages: owner (70 per cent), renter (about 20 per cent) and undefined (8 per cent).

The percentage of Ahmedabad housing categorized as slums increased from 17.2 per cent in 1961 to 22.8 per cent in 1971 and 25.6 per cent in 1991. It is estimated that 17.1 per cent of Ahmedabad’s population lived in slums in 1971. This rose to an estimated 21.4 per cent in 1982. The last estimate, based on a population census for the year 1991, nevertheless indicates that 40 per cent of households lived in slums and chawls.

Muslims, SCs (scheduled casts) and OBCs (other backward casts) constitute 91 per cent of the slum households, and more than 95 per cent of slum dwellers are migrants, indicating how rural poverty levels are now spilling over into urban areas. Often fleeing rural inter-cast exploitation and debts, slum populations require their children to contribute to the household income. Victimized by the police, municipal authorities and the upper classes alike, this group represents a particularly vulnerable section of society.

A series of shifts to improve the conditions in low income settlements have occurred since the 1950s. From initial slum clearance, the focus is now more on environmental and slum upgrading and community-based slum networking. With 40 per cent of its population of more than 3 million living in slums, the AMC functioned, until the early 1990, as a small welfare state. It deliberately made life easier for the poor by applying a regime that did not enforce anti-poor regulations, while tolerating squatter settlements on public and private land and allowing public space to be used for income-generating activities, with forced evictions rare. The AMC even constructed a small number of low-income houses.

An amendment to the Municipal Corporation Act during the 1970s obliged the AMC to spend 10 per cent of its revenue on improving basic services in slums and chawls. Based on a soft international loan, the AMC extended urban services to slums in its eastern suburbs. Under the Slum Improvement Partnership, the AMC now coordinates and facilitates the activities of other agencies, while picking up a considerable proportion of the costs in an effort to link slum upgrading with city-level service-delivery standards.

Nevertheless, the AMC had still failed to fully include many of the new insights in their overall urban planning. It is, in particular, their unwillingness to grant security of tenure for periods of longer than 10 years that sends out strong negative signals. Furthermore, the labyrinth of regulatory mechanisms and the complex procedures of the urban planning process have not helped the poor either. Although the AMC has not executed wholesale slum demolitions, public housing agencies have not provided citylevel shelter programmes for the poor.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.

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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh