The slums of Kolkata can be divided into three groups: the older
ones, up to 150 years’ old, in the heart of the city, are
associated with early urbanization. The second group dates from
the 1940s and 1950s and emerged as an outcome of industrialization-based
rural–urban migration, locating themselves around industrial
sites and near infra-structural arteries. The third group came into
being after the independence of India and took vacant urban lands
and areas along roads, canals and on marginal lands. In 2001, 1.5
million people, or one third of Kolkata’s population, lived
in 2011 registered and 3500 unregistered slums.
The 1956 Slum Act defines slums as ‘those areas where buildings
are in any respect unfit for human habitation’. The Calcutta
Municipal Council Act of 1980 defines bustees as ‘an area
of land not less than 700 square metres occupied by, or for the
purposes of, any collection of huts or other structures used or
intended to be used for human habitation’. The Central Statistics
Organization defines slums as an area ‘having 25 or more katcha
structures, mostly of temporary nature, or 50 or more households
residing mostly in katcha structures huddled together or
inhabited by persons with practically no private
latrine and inadequate public latrine and water facilities’.
There is a host of different slum categories, primarily divided
into two categories:
slums (bustees): these slums are recognized by the Calcutta
Municipal Corporation (CMC) on the basis of land title; since 1980,
they have been taken over by the CMC for letting/lease to slum dwellers.
slums: this comprises slums onthe land encroaching settlements.
The bustee-type generally has some form of secure tenure
or ownership rights based on land rent or lease, with structures
built by the slum dwellers, or house rental/lease of structures
built by third parties.
Tenure security is, in principle, not available to the unregistered
land encroaching settlements on road sides (jhupri), along
canals (khaldhar) or on other vacant land (udbastu).
It is envisaged that the number of urban poor will increase considerably
in the near future due to natural growth and in-migration, combined
with a lack of wellplanned and long-term intervention strategies.
Over 40 per cent of Kolkata’s slum residents have been slum
dwellers for two generations or longer, and more than half originate
from the Kolkata hinterland. With the majority engaged in the informal
sector, with average monthly earnings of between 500 and 1700 rupees
and a household size of five to six persons, some three-quarters
of the Kolkata slum population are below the poverty line.
The standard of living of the slum dwellers caused concern even
during colonial rule. For a long time, slums were treated as an
eyesore and a nuisance to be dealt with for reasons of safety, security,
and the health and hygiene of the urban elite. Policy interventions
focused mostly on clearance and removal. The First, Second and Third
Five-Year Plans laid emphasis on slum eradication and removal. Various
attempts were made to address the issue in alternative ways; but
all failed for different reasons.
The Environment Improvement in Urban Sector (EIUS) scheme, in operation
since 1974, has been partially successful in improving the living
environment of slum dwellers; but it has not helped in preventing
the growth of new slums through migration or natural increase. The
scheme suffers from lack of community involvement in planning, implementation
and monitoring of the programme. Another initiative that has generally
been effective in reducing urban poverty is the National Slum Development
Although some considerable successes have been achieved, there is
a long way to go for Kolkata in terms of addressing the issues related
to urban poverty and slums. There is an urgent need to establish
clear long-term strategies that address such issues as:
titles in bustees;
new slums around canal and roads;
greater effectiveness of urban poverty-eradication programmes;
awareness-building programmes on slum population;
role of each actor and stakeholder;
reduction approaches to slum improvement;
municipal institutional arrangements, including coordination of
the activities of various actors.
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',