Situation of Slums in Contemporary Urban Kolkata

On top of every dilemmas Kolkata is facing today, areas of slums are almost the hardest to resolve. The origin of slums dated back to the colonization period of the British, the Second World War, the Independence of India, the Civil War that separate India into India and Pakistan, and a series of other social upheavals. Among these slums spanning across different period, there are two major classifiable categories: slums built before industrialization and modernization of the city, and slums built after them[1].


The first type’s age can range from 50 years to 150 years. Slums of this type are more tending to be located within the major urban center area, built originally to accommodate servants, cleaners and workers immigrated to work in households and factories. Conditions of living in these slums are relatively lower with a really high living density of 2812 people per ha and worn-out infrastructural facilities. The majority of people here have no ownership of their houses, and would seasonally migrate to other places in seeking of jobs.


The second type was built in more recent periods that could date back to the past 30 years. Compared to the location of the old slums in a more central zone, these new slums are located more on the outskirts of the city. The central urban area had been almost filled and full when the new immigration wave started, which means temporary living spaces had to be put on the margins of the urban area. Another difference between these relatively new slums and the old ones is that the population composition of the new slums is more single and homogeneous, due to the reason that the one and only immigration flood had already filled these slums; the old slums are composed of more various races and groups, because the constant immigration in the long past brought in people from different backgrounds.


Till today, the slums are still growing and expanding that poses a serious threat to the healthy development of central Kolkata. The survey report of 1991 indicated that about 20 slums were holding approximately 8000 families of 40000 people. Statistics in 2000s showed that the slum population had witnessed a dramatic surge to almost 1500000. Among them, about 40% of the families has lived in slums for more than 20 years. Although the local government tried to introduce order and necessary infrastructures into these slums, the outcome is rather grim and off expectations.

[1] Kundu, Nitai. “The Case of Kolkata, India.” Understanding slums: Case studies for the global report on human settlements (2003).

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