People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 16

April 27, 2008



On The Plight Of The Urban Poor

Resolution adopted at the 19th congress of CPI(M) on April 2, 2008

The 19th Congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) expresses its grave concern over the deteriorating living conditions and plight of the urban poor.

The 19th Congress of the CPI(M) notes that though there is slower growth of population in India in urban agglomerations as compared to other Asian countries, the annual growth rate is 2.7 per cent in the last decade of between 1991-2001. In absolute terms, the size of urban population is about 331 million spread over 5161 cities and towns of varied sizes – this actually translate into an annual addition of about 9 million persons.

The 19th Congress recognizes that the problems in urban areas is manifested in the fact that while cities and towns held about 51.7 per cent share of country’s GDP in 1999-2000. The NSSO 61st round indicates that 26 per cent of the poor in the country reside in urban areas and during the decade between 1993-94 to 2004-05, urban poverty has increased by about 5.8 per cent. This acceleration in poverty is despite an increasing share of urban areas in India’s GDP. This reflects a sharp accentuation in inequality in cities and town.

The other feature in the pattern of urban poverty is a skewed distribution of urban population with a higher concentration in the metropolitan cities.

The majority of the urban poor work in the unorganized sector and are surviving on Rs 20 a day or less as detailed in the Arjun Sengupta report. They are forced to live in terrible conditions in urban slums in constant fear of their homes being bulldozed. At the same time, local mafia supported by real estate promoters are evicting slum dwellers in many cities, by force. The official estimates of 26 lakh homeless families in urban areas is a gross underestimate.

Vast urban slums are denied basic civic amenities, such as water, electricity and sanitation. According to the 54th round of NSS, only 66 per cent of urban households have their principle source of water within their premises. Again the same NSS data shows that 26 per cent of households have no latrines, 35 per cent only use septic tank and only 22 per cent are connected to sewerage system. In urban areas, these connections vary from 48 per cent to 70 per cent.

The thrust of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) is against the interests of the poor and middle class sections. In fact, Central Government is trying to impose retrograde conditions on States as a condition for giving funds to States through JNNURM. including repeal of Land Ceiling Act; imposition of user fees for water and sanitation etc. The 19th Congress protests against these anti-poor conditionalities, which are also an encroachment on State’s rights.

Except for the Left-led states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, all States have repealed Urban Land Ceiling Acts leading to a huge increase in land prices taking it out of the reach of even middle class people, leave alone the poor. Thus, the right to housing, land pattas in urban areas, insitu development of such slums, low cost housing projects are crucial demands to organize urban poor and middle class sections.

Judicial interventions in support of neo-liberal frameworks of urban development have deprived largest sections of street vendors, small retail traders of their rights to livelihood by placing restriction on their areas of work. These coincide with the thrust to open up retail trade to big corporates and MNCs. Other serious problem includes the lack of public transport and collapse of public distribution system.

The model municipal law which is being pushed by the Central government runs contrary to the spirit of progressive decentralization and the interests of the urban poor envisaged in the 74th Constitution amendment which, in any case, is far from being implemented in its true spirit in most parts of the country.

The 19th Congress of the CPI(M) strongly urges the Government to address the growing challenges facing the livelihood survival and a life of basic human dignity with a reversal of the present policy of exclusion and neglect. A slum policy to protect the rights of slum dwellers is essential. The 19th Congress demands that the process of urbanization is not left to the profit-driven pattern forced by real estate players, promoters and builders. The Congress urges appropriate re-orientation in the municipal policies and laws to ensure basic civic amenities and social services like education and health to ensure the basic dignity of human existence. The SJSRY scheme must be expanded and strengthened. The Congress appeals to all democratic sections of the Indian people to rise for forcing a policy change to reverse the plight of the urban poor. It calls on its Party units to organize the urban poor and working people for their immediate demands.