Home ‘ownership’ is not enough: Documenting spatial variations in how slum households in India access basic amenities


By examining access to a bundle of basic amenities – electricity, piped water and in-house latrines – by homeowners in slum (and non-slum) households and documenting how this varies across states and cities in India, the authors of this data-centric piece offer insights into how the quality of housing structures need to urgently be seen alongside access and quality of basic amenities to ensure improved quality of life in Indian cities. In a post-CoVID moment, these data points urge us to reflect on how inflexible land regulations and services delivery mechanisms have historically disadvantaged slum households in terms of public provision of, as well as private investment in, basic amenities.
By and  |  October 8, 2020

In India, owning a house per se does not signify a better quality of life. The Census 2011 data shows increasing divergence across slum and non-slum settlements in the urban areas if the focus is shifted from owning a house to owning a permanent or semi-permanent housing structure (house with pucca wall), and to adequate housing infrastructure. Fig 1 plots three variables as a ratio of share of households in non-slum in comparison to slum areas: (a) ownership of a house; (b) ownership of a house with pucca-wall structure; and (c) ownership of houses with three kinds of basic infrastructure including in-house treated tap water, in-house latrine and electricity as the main source of lighting.

It can be seen that while the share of self-owned houses is almost similar in slum areas (70.2% to total households) and non-slum (68.9%), and marginally higher in case of houses with pucca-walls in non-slum areas (87.8%) than slum areas (80.8%) in urban India, this gap widens substantially when one looks beyond the ownership of houses and set their focus on housing infrastructure. The share of slum households which have access to all three kinds of infrastructure, namely treated tap water, in-house latrine and electricity is lower in case of slum households (34.4%) than non-slum (47.6%). The data indicates that despite similarity in ownership and housing quality, urban slums lack crucial components like security of tenure and formality of ownership, which resists their access to a variety of public infrastructure or inhibits their private investments in housing amenities.

Figure 1: Slum and Non-Slum Difference in various parameters of Housing: All India (Authors’ calculations from Census 2011)

The link across tenure and housing is also evident from the latest NSO survey on housing (2018), which shows about 60% of the households in slums and 64% of the households in non-slums own their houses, while the share of households with access to all three amenities together (in-house piped water, in-house latrine and electricity as a source of domestic lighting) is only 23.6% across the self-owned households of slums and 45.2% across similar households in the non-slums. For all households, 19.4% of the households in the slums have access to all the three amenities together, while it is almost double in case of non-slums (38.7%). This refers that even after large-scale pro-poor incentives in successive urban infrastructure missions over time, the coverage of decent housing in the informal settlements remains fairly low without interventions on formal tenural legitimacy.

What is the statewise picture?

Fig 2 plots the share of slum households to total urban households across states to the share of slum households who have access to three basic amenities together: in-house treated tap water, in-house latrine and electricity as the primary source of lighting, as per Census 2011 data. Here, the size of the bubbles refer to the absolute number slum households in these states. There is wide statewise variation in access to these amenities; the share of these three amenities varies from 7.5% in Bihar to 55.8% in Rajasthan. With the exception of Andhra Pradesh, most states substantive slum populations fall below the national average (which is only 34.4%) in terms of access to these three basic amenities by slum households. It is apparent that states which have higher slum population have lagged behind in terms of managing and improving environmental and housing conditions in slums. This in turn relates to the complex linkages between planning, informal land development and legal access to public infrastructure in the more urbanized states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, or Karnataka.

Figure 2

While the share of slum households which have access to all three amenities is substantially low (34.4%), there are a lot of variations across these three kinds of facilities nationally and across the states. A distribution of these three amenities across the major states which have lower than national average share in housing infrastructure shows that electricity is almost universally accessed by the slum households (with the exception of Bihar), while access to treated tap water and latrine varies considerably across the states. Access to treated tap water ranges from a meagre 9% of the slum households in Bihar to 61% in case of Maharashtra, while access to in-house latrine ranges from 41.6% in Maharashtra to 86.4% in the slums of Assam (Fig 3). While the share of slum households with no electricity in these states is only 11.8%, the share of households with access to both treated tap and in-house latrine (with or without electricity) is 27.6%.

These variations urge us to reflect on, first, differing state priorities to provide public services like water to the slum settlements. For instance, the annual per capita spending under pro-poor component of JnNURM was 118.55 in case of Andhra Pradesh in 2009, while it was only INR 37.29 in case of Tamil Nadu. Second, we see how legality and formality of housing ownership affects the eligibilities of the slum dwellers to access public infrastructure. Electricity by virtue of its legal framework is less difficult to access by tenure-insecure slum households, while in case of networked services like piped water and piped sewer, formal titling of plots or dwellings is usually necessary. A notable case in this regard is Delhi, where the access to piped water within the dwelling has significantly improved over the period of 2009-2018 (within NSS 69th and 76th Rounds). The share of slum households with access to in-house piped water in Delhi has increased from 3.8% in 2009 to 44.8% in 2018. In the same time period, in 2016, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), which is a subsidiary of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD), decided to provide legal water connections to the residents of informal settlements and slums irrespective of their tenure status. The legal framework for granting such connections was borrowed from the Electricity Act and can be considered one of the landmark decisions to provide public services irrespective of place-based informalities in urban areas. Such informalities also contribute to the construction of in-house latrines by households where perceived security of tenure is low, making this a private instead of a public good.

Figure 3

Housing Infrastructure of Slums across Cities

While state policies are important determining the access to housing infrastructure in the informal settlements, there is a second order variation across size-class of towns. Fig 4 plots the distribution of three amenities: in-house treated tap water, in-house latrine and electricity in slum households across various population size-class of urban local bodies in India. These amenities show very different kind of distribution while plotted across urban size-class: electricity access is equally high across all the size-classes, and slightly more in case of larger cities; access to in-house latrine is high in slums of large and medium towns, but the picture is muddled in the case of small urban areas; and access to in-house treated tap water is poor except for slums in larger cities. As mentioned before, the distribution of electricity is more or less ubiquitous, as it remains unrestricted by tenure insecurity and pushed as a service by private firms. However, access to in-house latrine in settlements with low tenure legitimacy is contingent on the ability and intent of the slum-dwellers to invest in building latrines. It appears that slum-dwellers in large and medium towns are better placed to do so based upon their economic and organizational capabilities, this is not the case in smaller towns. In case of in-house treated tap water, spatial informalities do impose an overarching restrictions to access the same, but smaller towns with their low fiscal and executive capabilities are in a weaker position to offer such infrastructure to the urban poor in comparison to larger municipalities.

Figure 4: Distribution of Housing Infrastructure in Slum Households by City Size-Class (Authors’ calculations from Census 2011. This is a density distribution of selected amenities in slum households across various size-class of towns; if the curve is tilted rightwards, it means more households have higher access to amenities within a particular size-class and vice-versa. The share of slum households with electricity as the principal source of lighting is 95.4% in million-plus cities, 90.2% in medium towns (0.1 mn-1 mn), and 84.1% in small towns (<0.1 mn); the share for in-house latrine is 68.1%, 71.6% and 56.2% ; and for in-house treated tap water is 65.8%, 56% and 45.2% respectively.)

Slum and Non-Slum Disparities across Cities

The difference in housing infrastructure across the slums and non-slums varies across space. Fig 5 maps the disparity index, a summary measure for disparity in access to the three amenities together across slum and non-slum households across 2346 towns of various size-classes in India which includes some slum population. While the share of households which have all these three amenities together is low across both slum (34.4%) and non-slum (47.6%) households nationally, the difference is high across these two categories within the city. However, the level of disparity does not vary much across city size-class, as the situation of service delivery in terms of these three amenities changes in an equal manner across slums and non-slums in these three size-class of towns. The disparity index of households with three amenities is highest in the small ULBs (0.271), followed by million-plus cities (0.265) and medium towns (0.259) respectively.

The aggregated picture of disparity across cities and towns of various size-classes changes spatially and across individual cities, ranging from 2.81 in case of Sikar in Rajasthan to only 0.102 at Ajmer in the same state. Among the million-plus cities, Navi Mumbai has the largest disparity (1.12), while Vijayawada has the lowest disparity (0.007) score. Among the top metropolitan cities, Pune has the highest disparity score (0.595), while Greater Hyderabad has reported the lowest value (0.036). There is a lot of intra-state variation, but in general, cities of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab and Haryana show the lowest disparities across slums and non-slum areas, while ULBs of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat show higher intra-urban disparity. Fig 5 also shows that smaller towns in Tamil Nadu have higher slum to non-slum disparity than any other states.

Figure 5

Slum and Non-Slum Differences in Cores and Peripheries
While the slum and non-slum disparities vary across cities, the disparity between slums and non-slums is higher in the peripheries of urban agglomerations than in the core city. Fig 6 portrays this situation, where the comparative situation of slums and non-slums in terms of households’ access to the three amenities together have been plotted for cores and peripheries for 60 million-plus and non-million urban agglomerations (UAs) for which slum and non-slum figures are available separately across all the units. The disparity across slums and non-slums are least in the million-plus city core, followed by the core cities in non-million UAs. The peripheries of both kind of UAs resembles a poorer picture than the core, while it is worse in case of smaller cities. These spatial differences refer to two facts: 1) disparity in housing amenities in the newly built peripheries are an outcome of relatively underdeveloped level of public services than the long-settled core, and this affects informal settlements more, where the residents cannot provide commensurate private investment in services unlike their non-slum neighbours; 2) the emerging peripheralization of slums and informal settlements to city peripheries in many large cities in the name of ‘slum-free’ city planning may not always guarantee better living conditions for many of those resettled clusters in comparison to non-slums. Housing in the informal settlements is a layered and complex issue which requires multi-dimensional and nuanced management.

Figure 6: Disparity of Slums and Non-Slums in terms of Housing Amenities across Cores and Peripheries of Urban Agglomerations (Authors’ calculations from Census 2011. This plot refers to 60 UAs for which slum and non-slum figures are available separately for core cities and peripheral cities of UAs. The value inside the chart shows the median Disparity Index for each category; a higher Disparity Index refers to more disparity against slums and vice-versa.)

This analysis digs into the debate of housing in informal settlements into greater detail, by shifting the focus on quality of housing infrastructure. It points out that in the informal cityscape, housing shortage needs to be viewed more structurally, where issues like security of title matter to both public access and private investment into basic housing amenities, and there are variations within informal settlements spatially and as they develop across cities over time. Whether land tenure to the urban poor will be based on a ‘rights-based approach’ or become subject to existing legal processes is a long-standing debate on housing and shelter security, and the issue remains supremely relevant in terms of decent housing and improved quality of life to the poor in Indian cities.

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