India census says 1 in 6 lives in unsanitary slums

A new census report says one in six people in Indian cities live in some 100,000 sprawling slums with conditions "unfit for human habitation." The statistics are India's first complete count of its vast slum population.

Shantytowns have little sanitation and are 'unfit for human habitation'

A new census report with India's first complete count of its slum population, made available Thursday, says one in six people in Indian cities live in slums with conditions 'unfit for human habitation'. (Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press)

About one in six Indian city residents lives in an urban slum with unsanitary conditions that are "unfit for human habitation," according to the first complete census of India's vast slum population.

More than 40 per cent of households in Mumbai, India's financial capital and largest city with 19 million people, are located in overcrowded shantytowns where most residents are squatting illegally and many have little access to basic sanitation.

While the report described open sewers and poverty, it also shows that many slum residents have cellphones and televisions in their shacks and have made do with a lack of government infrastructure by rigging up elaborate, mostly illegal, systems to supply electricity.

Life in Mumbai's slums has been portrayed in the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire and last year's bestselling book Behind the Beautiful Forevers, but until now India has never had a complete census of its slum dwellers.

Survey details life in slums

There was an incomplete head count in 2001 that only included the country's largest slums. In the 2011 census, survey takers took pains to visit every shantytown — they counted 108,000 of them — and also made detailed records of their lives, according to the report Thursday by census commissioner C. Chandramouli. Detailed information from India's latest census is still trickling out.

The census report identified 13.8 million households — about 64 million people — located in city slums nationwide. That's 17.4 per cent of all urban households, which account for roughly one-third of India's 1.2 billion people.

"A slum, for the purpose of census, has been defined as residential areas where dwellings are unfit for human habitation by reasons of dilapidation, overcrowding … lack of ventilation, light or sanitation facility," Chandramouli said.

New Delhi, the Indian capital, had a relatively low 15 per cent of households in slums, while major cities Kolkata and Chennai had 30 per cent and 29 per cent respectively. High-tech centre Bangalore had only 9 per cent of its households in slums.

One-third slum homes without indoor toilets

Nationwide, more than one-third of slum homes surveyed had no indoor toilets and 64 per cent were not connected to sewerage systems.

About half of the households lived in only one room or shared with another family.

However, 70 per cent had televisions and 64 per cent had cellphones. That's about the same cellphone ownership rate as the general urban population and only slightly less than the number of general city dwellers with televisions.