Monthly Archives: January 2009

Slums in Kolkata



Slum Report : Motijheel




Slum Report : Motijheel


Kolkata is a three hundred year old city. Over the years it has developed from a trio of villages into a sprawling metropolitan city. With a population density of about 10,000 people per kilometer square the city is bursting at the seams. Year after year hosts of migrants join the city’s burgeoning population in their quest for daily bread. A number of slum settlements have sprung up in and around the city to accommodate this surge of people.

The Slums in the city can be divided into three sections. Firstly the ones that goes back in time to almost a hundred and fifty years. These were the first slums in Kolkata. Then comes another set that sprung up around building sites and industrial centers. These were to cater to people who worked at these construction sites. With infrastructural developments on the rise these slums flourished and sprawled. The third set was the ones that had people settle into empty lots, near canals and generally unclaimed lands. Together these make up some 2,011 registered and 3,500 unregistered slum settlements housing about a third of the cities population.

One of these is the slum settlement in motijheel. It’s the same place that years ago had induced Mother Teresa to start  tending to the needs of the destitute and starving. This slum is located very near the centre of the city. With a canal flowing close by and a local railway track going right through it, it provides the typical setting for a slum. The area is at a lower level than the surrounding areas. It comes under the jurisdiction of Entally Police Station. The population comprises of mostly Muslims and a sprinkling of other communities.

The population density here is somewhere double the average population density in the city. The houses are nothing more than shacks though in recent years a number of small one room tenements have sprung up. They are so closely packed and most of them still have tiled roofs. Their close proximity and profusion of labyrinthine lanes snaking into the interior of the slum means that there are no fire safety measures that can be implemented. It is a disaster waiting to happen. Municipal Corporation does recognize this as a slum settlement and provides water and electricity.

two principal problems that residents complain about are access to clean drinking water and lack of garbage clearance facilities.

The slum has both, a number of tube wells and also corporation pumps for drinking water. The water from the tube wells is far from potable. In fact the water is so hard that it barely serves for washing clothes. Corporation pumps provide the main source of drinking water. The supply however is good only for four hours a day. Two hours in the morning and another two hours in the evening. Clearly it does not come close to serving the drinking water needs of the whole settlements. This is evidenced by long queues and frequent “water wars” that break out among residents. Often it’s a matter of queuing up for two hours to get two buckets of water. The other alternative is fetching water from pumps outside the settlement which are necessarily far away. The more affluent members have taken to buying packaged cans of drinking water. Residents also complain that in the rainy season access to drinking water is a major problem. The low lying nature of the area means that large sections of the area face water logging. The problem is compounded when the water level rises above the level of the municipal water pumps. They become submerged and are no longer a viable option for drinking water. Sewage and rain water mixes with the pump water making it a health hazard.

 the second major problem faced by residents is the problem of electricity. The area is lighted by Municipal Street lights. CESC Limited, a RPG company provides domestic lighting. One rampant problem is that most residents opt to steal electricity rather than subscribe for the service. Long hooks with dangling wires attached to overhead power cables are a common sight. There seems to be a method to the madness. Even though the residents steal the power they pay small subscription to local operatives to turn a blind eye to the stealing. Residents hinted that there was a cartel to organise the theft of electricity in an organised manner. Md. Farukh, a resident says that he once tried top subscribe to a meter. Initially it was vandalised by local goons. He said that these people have an interest because they collect subscriptions for allowing people to steal electricity. Later he faced the problem of power theft himself. In one month alone his electricity bill amounted to nearly Four thousand clearly indicating power thefts. Presently he has had his meter disconnected and has fallen back on tapping passing electricity cables.

Residents allege that local administration and Police officials are hand in glove and are fully aware of the power theft situation. Police officials on the other hand say that they do conduct raids but that this does not fall under their jurisdiction. They pass the buck to the authorities from the power company themselves.

All this means that the population of about sixty thousand people have to rely on their own means to fend for themselves.

Problems of urban poverty are accentuated in these settings and demand immediate action. Most of the population is engaged is small business like hawking. The incidence of unemployment is high. This also results in the flourishing of small gangs of thugs involved in petty crimes. Local residents nurse a grouse that the administration has turned a blind eye to their problems. They rue that the only time they get any attention is during election time when local politicians descend on them to exhort votes. Residents claim that if they can mobilize themselves they will be able to better their lot.