ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Making of Slums

An Analysis of Indian Parliamentary Debates from 1953 to 2014

The rationality and discourse which legitimises state actions regarding slums are investigated, thereby uncovering how slums are discursively produced. The question-hour debates from 1953 until 2014 of the upper house of the Indian Parliament are analysed for this purpose, complemented by an examination of slum-related policies and legislations. The historical progression of the conceptualisation of slums, the rationale around it and how this rationality reigns in policy and legislation debates are outlined. The slums have transformed from political subjects to technical objects over a period of 61 years.

This paper has greatly benefited from discussions with and guidance of Haripriya Rangan. The author would also like to thank René Véron,
Ola Söderström, and Charlotte Lemanski for their insightful comments on an earlier version of this paper.  

In 1957, during a Rajya Sabha  (Indian Parliament’s upper house) debate, one parliamentarian posed the following question: ‘‘What is the definition of a slum, and which areas are declared slum areas?’’ (Chand 1957: 2690). The debate transcripts do not reveal whether this was a genuine enquiry to better understand the issue or a pointed critique through a rhetorical question. Regardless, the chairman (speaker), instead of letting the minister reply, mocked the question by asking back: ‘‘What is the definition of a slum? Physical or mental slum?’’ (Chand 1957: 2690). Contrastingly, by the early 2010s, there were multiple slum definitions resulting in data mismatches. Replying to one such question, the minister stated that

the Government is aware that the Census Office and the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) have come up with different estimates of India’s slum population … The NSSO has covered only two types of slums i e Notified and Non-notified while Census has considered three types of slums, namely. “Notified, Recognized, and Identified” (R P N Singh [Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs], Indian National Congress [INC] cited Irani 2014: 17)

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Updated On : 23rd Oct, 2023
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