The government of India announced plans earlier this week to do comprehensive mapping of slums in the entire country.
In many of India’s big cities such as Mumbai, well over half the population reside in slums.
Using Geographical Information System mapping, the project aims to produce reliable numbers about slum populations — to further the government’s ambitious goal of making India slum-free within five years.
Officials say that the detailed geographic information will also make it easier for municipalities to provide basic services to slum dwellers, including water and electricity.
Yet some advocacy groups argue that the effort, hatched by Housing Minister Kumari Selja and reliant on technology used by the Indian Space Research Organisation, would merely facilitate redevelopment plans and the relocation of slum dwellers.
Worldfocus: Do you support the new slum mapping plan?
Pratima Joshi: Yes, we support the government’s slum mapping program. This is largely based on our model of poverty mapping. Shelter Associates pioneered the use of GIS for mapping poverty in India way back in 1999, and ever since we have been urging cities to have this kind of spatial data in place for effective, inclusive planning.
Worldfocus: What are the primary reasons why the government wants to gather this information?
Joshi: We have been able to demonstrate through some of our projects — especially Sangli — that such information helps to develop a citywide approach to developing the degraded areas in your city and helps achieve optimal utilization of scarce resources like land, instead of the usual piecemeal approach.
Worldfocus: How are slum dweller advocacy groups trying to stop the mapping effort?
Joshi: We have not encountered this problem with our work.
Worldfocus: Will Mumbai benefit from highly-detailed information about its slums, where the majority of Mumbaikars reside?
Joshi: Absolutely. In fact I believe that the need of the hour is to look at slums within the neighborhood and citywide perspectives, rather than just see places liked Dharavi as isolated slum pockets. There could be better solutions emerging if a holistic approach is adopted.
– Ben Piven