Home Spotlight Slum rehabilitation won’t reduce urban density

Slum rehabilitation won’t reduce urban density

Slum rehabilitation is attracting lot of attention especially after the outbreak of Coronavirus in the country. Though slums might have fuelled the spread of pandemic but are not responsible for its outbreak. Still slum rehabilitation deserves a hard look as the programme aims at providing basic amenities to the mankind and also its initiation involves lot of construction activities which is essential to kickstart the economy out of its present ‘statue mode.’

It’s a well-known fact that the quality of housing stock in slums is extremely poor. An important reason (apart from that relating to finance) for this is insecurity of tenure. Slums are also severely deficient in basic services such as potable water, sanitation, sewerage, storm water drainage and solid waste disposal. If we want to improve the quality of life in urban areas, housing stocks in slum areas will have to be improved.

Case for vertical development of slums

Cities in India have one common problem, that is, lack of space.  The problem to an extent has been aggravated by the horizontal development of slums. This has led to a trend of vertical development of slums. For example, in Chennai, ground plus seven-story units as part of slum rehabilitation projects. Even other cities have started emulating Chennai efforts. This will further have impact on urban density when our cities are already bursting at the seams.

Sao Paulo7,100
Los Angeles2,400
New York1,800


There are also trade-offs because higher urban densities are also associated with disproportionately larger embodied energy in buildings and other infrastructure, higher exposure to air pollutants, and traffic congestion.

India is going to become a nation with highest population soon while her land mass will remain the same (leaving apart loss of land due to erosion and incursion!). Further, in the next few decades more people will live in cities than in villages which in turn means urban density will only go up.

Urban density is given least priority

Density of population is given least priority in our slum rehabilitation programmes. In their zeal to accommodate more people on less land city administration often ignores density norms set by National Building Code of India (NBC). For example, in case of Perumbakkam project was implemented by the TNSCB under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) to house 20,000 families living in various slums in Chennai, the government failed to adhere to the norms set by NBC. As per the norms, the density of a housing project cannot exceed 150 dwelling units for 1 hectare of land. Accordingly, the Perumbakkam project site planned on 81.20 hectares of land can have only 12,180 dwelling units. Surprisingly later on TNSCB planned to construct 23,864 dwelling units with a density of 294 dwelling units per hectare as against the norms of 150 units. According to CAG report, though TNSCB later on relocated 3,488 units to locations such as Gudapakkam, Navalur and All India Radio land, yet Perumabakkam was left with 20,376 dwelling units with a density of 251 units per hectare which is still well above the NBC norms.

Density norms as per NBC

Type of DevelopmentRange of densities
Plotted development65-120 plots per hectare
Mixed development
1)     Small towns75-100 dwelling units

per hectare

2)     Cities100-125 dwelling units

per hectare

3)     Metropolitan Cities125-150 dwelling units

per hectare


In Mumbai slums situation is worse

In Mumbai the situation is even worse as six million people live in slums (scattered all over the city) in a land area of 30 square km or 3000 hectares. The average density of the slums is 200,000 persons per square km or 2000 persons (400 tenements) per hectare. If the current policy of rehabilitation is implemented in the present form, we may get to see to about 6,500 persons (1300 tenements) per hectare— 25-30 storied high-rise buildings without open spaces and amenities!

COVID threat may provide threat

Recently we saw COVID spreading in Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi (though it was contained due to the efforts of locals, authorities and doctors) which had become the hotspot for the pandemic. Urban experts believe that slums are health hazards and unless the problem is solved right now the problem will only aggravate in the coming years as the urbanisation in the country is picking pace. One only hopes that COVID threat only provides much needed trigger to push forward the slum rehabilitation programmes.

People living slums need to be rehabilitated as they also deserve better standard of living and access to basic amenities. But it should not result in creating a new problem while trying to solve the existing ones which seems to be the case with the present rehabilitations schemes.  Present scheme will only result in creation of vertical slums in place of horizontal ones thus defeating the very purpose of the programme. Ultimately only the developers and the politicians may benefit from such schemes without change in the status of slumdwellers and the common man.

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