Who are the poor in Pune?

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In a survey of all city slums in 2005, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) identified just 10,088 families as living on less than Rs 591.75 per person per month, the official criterion for identifying Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. If one were to go by this figure, for want of more recent/updated data, poverty levels have been falling in the city even as the population was rapidly rising.

Eight years before that, in 1997, when the population was half of what it is today, a survey was conducted in PMC limits for the central government’s Suvarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana, an employment scheme for the urban poor. It found 14,619 families in the BPL category. At that time, the monthly per capita income was pegged at Rs 419.58.

The same year, a survey by city NGOs found 289 households with a population of 1,167 living on the streets. Very few among them had a ration card, so they were not ‘officially’ poor. ‘Pavement-dwellers in Pune are amongst the poorest of the city’s population…Most of them come from the drought-prone areas of Maharashtra…What they make (in Pune) is enough to pay for food and the most basic shelter. They cannot even enter the informal slum housing market,’ said the survey titled ‘Pune’s Invisible People’ by Shelter Associates and SPARC-Mahila Milan.

‘It is important to emphasise at this stage that this is an ongoing project.  So far, we have identified a total of nine pavement settlements in Pune city based on the network of our pavement-dwellers. There are more in the city,’ the report said.

The present population of the city (within Pune Municipal Corporation and not counting the area under the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation) is 31,15,431 according to Census 2011. The combined population of Pune with Pimpri-Chinchwad is 48.44 lakh.

The latest Environment Status Report for 2012-13 says there are 564 slums in the city, of which 353 (64%) are declared, meaning their existence is officially recognised and they are provided basic services, and 211 (36%) are undeclared and ineligible for basic services from the municipal corporation. There are approximately 11.89 lakh people residing in slums, which constitutes about 40% of the city’s total population.

Then there is a floating population of approximately 3.4 lakh, which amounts to 8.5% of the total population, according to demographic projections by the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE) for Pune in 2008, which confirms that migration to the city is on the rise due to increased economic opportunities.  

The municipal administration claims to have done its best when it comes to identifying the city’s poor. “Earlier, the municipal commissioner could give BPL status to a family. Now, the state government decides who falls under the BPL category,” Hanumant Nazirkar, an officer with PMC’s Urban Community Development (UCD) department, said. The UCD’s field workers collect the data for poor families and send it to the state government’s Urban Development (UD) department. They then send an approved BPL list to the PMC for action, Nazirkar explained.

Maharashtra has classified its population into three broad categories based on annual income – families with income of less than Rs15,000 annually are classified as BPL; those with more than Rs15,000 but less than Rs 1 lakh (100,000) are considered Above Poverty Line (APL). Each of these groups is issued colour-coded ration cards: yellow is a BPL card, orange is an APL card. Families whose annual income is more than Rs 1 lakh are issued white cards.

PMC’s criterion for the urban poor, especially while providing civic funds and services, is – ‘families having Rs 1 lakh income per year per family’. More than 87% of the city’s families are orange ration card-holders, with incomes less than Rs 1 lakh per year, according to the ‘Socio-Economic Survey of Pune City (2008-09)’ by the Karve Institute of Social Service. Figures with the city’s ration office for August 2009, quoted in the survey, showed only 4.38% of families held yellow cards, while 8.59% were white card-holders. The survey found 91.4% families in possession of ration cards.

Pune’s City Development Plan (CDP) for 2006-2012 says: ‘Poverty in a city is complex to define -- a large number of indicators are involved, like health and well-being, as well as income. There are a number of ways to define poverty and measure it. The simplest definition of poverty is to describe it as the lack of specific consumption (ie not enough to eat). A broader definition defines poverty as the lack of command over commodities exercised by a population. Another, more sophisticated, definition is based on the capability of the poor to function in society. Access to basic services, especially adequate and safe water, health and sanitation, and education are now increasingly being recognised as an important indicator of poverty.’

The CDP concedes that no recent studies are available on the extent of poverty in Pune: ‘It could be true that absolute poverty as per the general definition, ie not enough to eat, may not exist in Pune, except amongst a small section of people who lack even housing and other amenities and can be categorised as the urban poor. But if other parameters of urban poverty like housing, access to better sanitation facilities and capability to function in society are considered, then almost all slum-dwellers can be categorised as urban poor.’

The PMC claims to be spending 24% of its budget for the urban poor against the 10% target set for services to the poor under the central scheme, JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission), rolled out in 2005 to fill infrastructural gaps relating to water, sanitation, sewerage, drainage and roads on the one hand and deficiencies in housing and basic services on the other hand, through Basic Services to Urban Poor (BSUP) and different urban sector reforms.

However, a 2009 study titled ‘Citizens Guide on Status of Pro-poor Reforms in Maharashtra’ by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), said: ‘PMC has not specified the amount it earmarks for urban poor. However, it claims to have achieved 100% coverage for urban poor in water and sanitation as well as convergence of education, health and social security. Also, it claims to have earmarked more than 15% of land for urban poor. It is not clear if this land has been reserved in the development plan or for BSUP projects.’

The Union Planning Commission’s mid-term appraisal of the JNNURM projects, as reported in The Times of India dated February 4, 2013, found that since the scheme’s launch in 2005, the centre had approved proposals worth Rs 522 crore under BSUP for integrated development of slums by providing shelters, basic services and other civic amenities in the city. The PMC had utilised Rs 175.42 crore.   Of the 20,528 tenements proposed for the urban poor under BSUP, the PMC had managed to construct only 2,294 tenements while the construction of 3,474 tenements was on. There had been no progress on plans to construct another 14,760 tenements.

On December 4, 2013, the elected body of the PMC approved a draft of the revised CDP for defining a long-term vision of Pune by 2041, as mandated by the central government for receipt of JNNURM-II funds. The new plan estimates an investment of Rs 88,443.9 crore for special projects, housing and slum rehabilitation. More than 90% of the investment is planned from 2013-14 to 2020-21, while the remaining 10% has been slotted for after 2021.

Ensuring better housing and basic facilities for the urban poor featured as a target for the city in previous decades too, says academic Meera Bapat in her 1980 study titled ‘Shanty Town and City: The Case of Pune’, quoting from three surveys carried out in 1937, 1954 and 1967.

The 1937 survey points to the uneven supply of different types of housing, meeting mainly the needs of the rich and middle classes and resulting in a considerable worsening of housing conditions for the other classes.

The 1954 survey notes: ‘If we define overcrowding (as a situation in which) there are less than 25 sq ft  of living area per person, 31% of the total families….in the present survey were found to be living in conditions of extreme overcrowding. The corresponding proportion of families in the 1937 survey was 22.6%.’

The 1967 survey gives a clear picture of the extent of unsanitary, badly-lit and ill-ventilated authorised housing: ‘It is reported that 35.3% of houses in the city get poor natural light, 34.9% get poor fresh air (sic), and 42.9% have dirty and smelly surroundings, while 40% have poor sanitation.’

In 1969, 12% of the population lived in slums. Today, 40% are slum-dwellers. And by 2026, the population of Pune city (not counting Pimpri-Chinchwad and other areas within the Pune urban agglomeration) is projected to reach 55-60 lakh, according to GIPE’s demographic projections. Nearly half of this population is likely to be living in informal settlements.

‘The narrow approach of the income-poverty line overlooks the multifaceted nature of human deprivation,’ says Bapat in her study. ‘The official poverty line, when applied to Pune, suggests that only 2% of the population is poor, yet at least 40% of the population lives in poverty.’

Bapat’s longitudinal study of slum settlements shows that there is very limited upward mobility in the city’s labour market. Her survey findings from 1976, 1980, 1988 and 2003 show that the urban poor cannot be confident of a steady and stable growth in their incomes during periods of rapid economic growth in Pune, and that the opportunities for households to escape from their deleterious environments in slums are very limited. ‘Lack of secure employment together with the lack of sufficient assets makes access to housing of adequate quality impossible. Hence, despite moderate increases achieved in income, these households are effectively trapped in degraded environments,’ she concludes.

Bapat says that PMC’s 2005 door-to-door survey of slums was a detailed survey that included several criteria other than food consumption designed to capture the existing deprivation, but covered only those families that had proof of residence in a slum since before 1995 and those living in authorised housing in poorer areas of the city that made a declaration about their BPL income. “The data could have been used to pinpoint the exact nature of deprivation at different locations in the city, so that relevant measures could be adopted to address it. Instead, the official survey had the limited objective of identifying (a minimum number of) families that would benefit from welfare measures.”

PMC identified only 10,000-odd families as being below the poverty line in 2005. Given that nearly 220,000 families were living in abysmal conditions in slums in that year, fewer than 5% were identified as poor. To this day therefore, of the total population of Pune, the incidence of poverty is officially measured as less than 2%. In contrast, the urban population below the official poverty line (widely acknowledged as a starvation line) in Maharashtra is over 20%.

Bapat calls for another survey and suggests a return to the 1876 definition of the poverty line by Dadabhai Naoroji: ‘what is necessary for bare wants of a human being, to keep him in ordinary good health and decency’. The key terms being ‘good health’ and ‘decency’.

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