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The COVID-19 crisis has drawn attention to the insecurities that haunt the lives of the urban poor specially women.


GS Paper 2: Poverty and associated issues

Mains Questions:

  1. Public works could provide valuable support to the urban poor, especially if women get most of the jobs. Discuss. 15 marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • About Urban Poor in India
  • Causes of urban poverty
  • Issues related to urban poor
  • Measures taken by the Government
  • Way Forward

About Urban Poor in India

India has witnessed tremendous growth over the last two decades, the proportion of poor below the poverty line has dropped from 45% to 22% between 1994 and 2012. Close to 133 million Indians have been lifted out of poverty. The Indian government is committed to poverty eradication which the Honourable Prime Minister of India noted “remains the greatest unfinished business of the 20th century”.

  • In India’s development strategy, removal of poverty became a dominant objective initially in the Fifth Five-year Plan (1974-79).
  • According to the report of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (2001) about 23.5% of urban households are slum dwellers.
  • This percentage had decreased to 17% by 2011 even though the total number of households living in slums had gone up from 10.5 million in 2001 to 13.75 million in 2011.
  • The majority of urban poverty growth happens in mega cities.
Povert Line in India er-ca 
Committee on Poverty 
Tendulkar committee 
Ran ara•an Committee 
ita er month at 2011-12 
rices All data or 2011-12 
Rs. 816 
Rs. 72 
Rs. 1000 
Rs. 1407 
30. % 
Urban All India 
21. %

Causes of Urban Poverty

  • Uncontrolled migration:
    • The lack of infrastructure in rural areas, forces inhabitants of these regions to seek out work in India’s mega-cities.
    • As more and more people make this migration, the space left to accommodate them becomes less and less.
    • Urban development can’t keep up with the growing numbers of informal settlers and leads to an increase in the number of slums.
  • Lack of investment:
    • Urban poverty is a result of the lack of opportunities and skills training for most of the working age population.
    • Over the years, a shortage of adequate investment in quality education and basic services like health, sanitation, waste management and skill training has had its consequences.
    • It has led to generations of malnourished, uneducated, unaware and unskilled or semi-skilled people who find it difficult to find decent paying jobs.
  • Lack of infrastructure in villages:
    • Due to lack of basic amenities and employment options in villages people migrate to cities.
    • Agriculture is barely a lucrative option in villages, so their only job option is to seek out work in the cities’ informal economies.
    • Millions migrate to the cities every day to take up informal jobs such as domestic help, taxi driving, construction site work, etc.
    • However, this creates overcrowding in the already packed urban infrastructure.

Issues related to urban poor

  • Housing Vulnerability: Majority of urban poor generally live in low quality unhygienic areas such as slums. They have no ownership rights and entitlements. As occupants construct on the empty land, the civic body does not provide them basic amenities- therefore they have no access to individual water connection, toilets, electricity, and roads. Also, poor live in unhealthy and insanitary living conditions. According to Census 2011, 17.7% of urban population comprising 65 million people lives in slums.
  • Economic Vulnerability: Irregular employment with low wages makes them more vulnerable. This restricts availability of formal credit from banks, they have no access to formal safety net programmes, and productive assets.
  • Social Vulnerability: The income inequality creates divergence between lower strata of society i.e. poor and middle class. It increases social differences in education and skill development programmes.
  • Personal Vulnerability: At personal level, poor are more vulnerable for getting social justice in their day-to-day work. The poor are victims of all types of injustice and violence. Particularly, low caste people and minority, especially women, children, the elderly, disabled and destitute have no access to social justice.

Measures taken by the Government

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA) is the nodal agency at the Centre responsible for development of urban poor. There are various schemes which address various vulnerabilities of the urban poor.

  • To address Housing Vulnerability: The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) Programme launched by the MoHUPA, in Mission mode envisions provision of Housing for All by 2022. The Mission seeks to address the housing requirement of urban poor including slum dwellers.
  • To address Economic Vulnerability:
    • MoHUPA is implementing a Centrally Sponsored Scheme Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NULM) for reducing the poverty and vulnerability of urban poor households since 2013. The Mission covers all the statutory towns, to be decided by the State as per local need and capability.
    • Also, the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 aims to protect the rights of urban street vendors and to regulate street vending activities. So far 33 States/UTs have notified the scheme. Meghalaya has its own Street Vendors Act.
  • To address Social Vulnerability: Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY), Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) and Atal Pension Yojana (APY) seek to bring unorganised sector workers and poor across the country (including rural areas) under the safety net of insurance and pension.

Way Forward

COVID-19 has forced us to look at imbalanced growth planning of cities and an impoverished urban population. In such a scenario, following suggestions could be implemented to tackle the persisting challenges-

  • Reform the Urban Governance: Rebuild urban governance model on the following pillars: Convergence and accountability; urban populace specific schemes; wider public participation; and use of the latest technologies. Also Urban local bodies must be financially and administratively strengthened.
  • Build a credible Database of the urban poor and migrants, along with mapping their skills that is maintained centrally at the district level. The national migrant database, announced by the National Disaster Management Authority is a step in this direction. o This data shall also assist policy makers in developing tailor-made schemes for the urban populace.
  • Decentralise urban growth: Urban planning should be decentralised by focusing on smaller cities and towns. This will lessen the burden of migrant population on megacities and also enhance the liveability within the city.
  • Address Health and social vulnerability: Learning from COVID pandemic should be incorporated to focus on social determinants of healthcare by creating a robust, equitable and sustainable infrastructure that should be inclusive for all levels of society and ensure strong grassroots level partnership with communities
July 2024