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February 25, 2010
India launches countrywide slum mapping campaign

A street in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum. Photo: Ben Piven

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 spoke with Pratima Joshi, director of housing NGO Shelter Associates, based in Pune, India, for more about the issue:

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




The government’s initiative to map all the slums is commendable. There seems to be something basically wrong with our urban development policies and programmes right from the start. I think our government, particularly the Urban Development planners and administrators should be proactive rather than being reactive. We need to have long term perspective plans to tackle the ever-increasing problems of urban life.


very nice ,,,,please make sangli slum free…. 19.8% of sangli’s population lives in slum and we need your helping hands….and thanks


Social stratification is a constant in human history. But India developed it more fully, discriminated more extremely, and held onto it much longer. I wonder why a place like India didn’t more eagerly follow the rest of the world in developing beyond class rigidity.


The notion that India does not know where its poor slum dwellers live is hard for non-native Indians to understand. If you are serious about reallocating resources to the poor perhaps the best way is to abolish the cast system which subjugates them in the first place. You don’t have to use space based cameras to find slums in India, just use your eyes. I have worked with many members of the upper cast, I am sure there are just as many remarkable persons hidden away beneath the poverty of your slums.


Instead of appreciating the effort of GOI to help with mapping..I am seeing so much slander and scepticism from Pakistanis, foreigners and aliens..!
India should map its slums not only to eradicate poverty and assign resources but to assure no Pakistani takes refuge in slums to launch terror attacks.


Correction: The Islam Nation of Pakistan cherishes their autonomy,and will never be subjugated to slavery in any form of “Caste” system. Thanks Worldfocus.


India can map all the slums but that is not the solution. As long as the arrogant upper casts still believe that people of inferior cast deserve to live in slums there will me no change in India. I have worked with many upper cast members, their place in the upper casts was clearly by historical right not by skill.


The very reason for the dislike,and animosity between India,and Pakistan is the “Caste” system ,…a commonly excepted tier-slot, known only to exist in the Hindu Nation (India) structural-hiarchy! It is an absolute,and diabolical humanitarian failure regarding equality to mankind,yet proliferated indecriminately. The Pakistani’s will never be subjugated to such autonomous slavery,period!


Technology and Indian provincial politicians make an interesting mix. After all Microsoft Access was used extensively (with many obsolete records, of course) so successfully in Gujarat to weed out the undesirables.


Maybe we need to map our minds to understand the true origins of slums. Lets start with the caste sysem. This indicates that religion and philosophy have failed us – failed to explain why we are all of the same caste. Economic exploitation is the biggest bear.

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