Transforming narratives: unravelling India’s transition in slum definitions

Transforming narratives: unravelling India’s transition in slum definitions


The discourse on slums has been a recurrent theme in the Indian Parliament’s discussions, witnessing evolution over time, thereby challenging precise definition. Nipesh Narayanan’s research investigates this dynamic narrative by scrutinizing debates in the Rajya Sabha from 1953 to 2014. The study delves into the shifting conceptualizations of slums and their impact on legislative and policy approaches.


GS-02 (Growth and Development)

Mains Question:

Examine the impact of changing definitions on legislative and policy approaches over different eras. Discuss the dangers associated with relying solely on technological and numerical solutions for addressing urban challenges, emphasizing the necessity of a comprehensive understanding of slum dynamics. (250 words)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Era of Inception (1950s-1960s)
  • Transition to Development (Early 1970s-Mid-1980s)
  • Economic Pivot (Mid-1980s-Late 1990s)
  • Data-Driven Policies (2000s-2014)
  • Technological Solutions and Upliftment (2000s-2014)

Era of Inception (1950s-1960s):

  • In the initial era, slums were perceived as consequences of post-independence challenges, linked to issues like partition-induced migration.
  • The focus was on spatial constraints and health concerns, leading to the Slum Areas Act of 1956, marking the government’s ability to intervene. However, discussions primarily emphasized eradication without addressing socio-economic factors.

Transition to Development (Early 1970s-Mid-1980s):

  • The narrative shifted from eradication to development, recognizing slums as a necessary aspect requiring improvement.
  • Financial limitations prompted town planning, pushing slums to peripheries. The discourse now centered on strategies for slum improvement and urban planning challenges.

Economic Pivot (Mid-1980s-Late 1990s):

  • The perspective transformed again in the mid-1980s, with a focus on cities as economic assets.
  • Economic reasoning dominated interventions, leading to shifts in housing policies and the launch of the National Slum Development Programme in 1996. Economic growth became the driving force, emphasizing data-driven policies.

Data-Driven Policies (2000s-2014):

  • The 2001 Census marked a paradigm shift, broadening slum definitions and informing targeted schemes. Slums transitioned into economic objects, emphasizing data-based solutions.
  • Statistical information addressed complexities of slum formation, aligning policies with technical and economic perspectives. Debates centered on fund allocation and efficacy in implementing urban development.

Technological Solutions and Upliftment (2000s-2014):

  • The 2000s witnessed slums viewed through a technocratic lens, relying on technological solutions for urban problems.
  • Discussions navigated the complexity of slum causality, emphasizing issues like urban planning, population growth, and affordable housing challenges. Solutions focused on upgradation strategies and legal rights for slum dwellers.

Way Forward:

The historical trajectory of slum discourse reveals a transformation from socio-political considerations to technocratic approaches. The reliance on data-driven policies and technological solutions poses challenges. The danger of viewing slums solely as instruments for anti-poverty measures is highlighted. The need to challenge State categories and comprehend slum dynamics beyond numerical data is underscored.