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Urbanization and Unequal Development

Pamela Philipose

By Arup Mitra
Manohar Publishers, Delhi, 2003, pp.167, Rs.340.00


By 2030, 40 per cent of India's population will be living in urban areas according to projections. The gargantuan gap between the inexorable rise of the country's urban population, on the one hand, and policy making on urban entitlements, investments, infrastructure, and administrative norms, on the other, is therefore extremely discomfiting. This is not for lack of scholarly interest in the subject. Many academics and researchers, both within the country and outside it, have studied or been studying the phenomenon, some of them choosing specific cities as their vantage point. The volume under review belongs to this category-it has Delhi as its sole focus. Although it first came out almost eight years ago and its author, Arup Mitra, a Professor of Economics at the Institute of Economic Growth, has since done a great deal more work on the subject, this work remains an important attempt to understand the process of how the Other Half lives, works and contributes to the growth of a city that also happens to be the country's capital. In fact it is the unique status of Delhi that invests the book with significance, because many of the country's attempts at evolving a policy matrix for urban India found its first expression in this city. From the early attempts to integrate people from low income groups into the city's development to draconian ones like the 'Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act 1956, Delhi has been the site of several interventions. The binary 'clearance/improvement' is a rich trope that ran through its modern history, where 'clearance' invariably amounted to demolishing the dwellings of the non-privileged in order to bring 'improvement' to the lives of the privileged-Turkman Gate, Yamuna Pushta, or the recent demolitions that preceded the Commonwealth Games, et al. The strength of Mitra's 2003 work lies precisely in providing those who go by the collective term 'slum-dwellers', a local habitation and a face. Mitra's analysis is marked by empathy. Based on a micro survey conducted in 802 households in 30 slum clusters of Delhi in 1999-2000, the book situates the phenomenon of squatter settlements firmly on the terrain of uneven industrialization. In fact Mitra sees the slum as a coping strategy of those who have fought to escape the poverty inherent in their very location and iterates that the city benefits from their labour. He believes there is a great deal to be learnt from the 'informal mecha-nisms of networking' within a ...

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