India’s Number of Slum-Dwellers Surges as Economy Draws People to Cities

The number of Indians living in slums rose by a quarter in the last decade to 93 million people, more than the population of Germany, as a surging urban economy draws in villagers and strains city infrastructure.

As many as 93.06 million people will live in urban areas by 2011 in India, the world’s second most populous nation, a government committee set up by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation said in a report today. It estimated the country’s slum population has risen 23 percent from 75.26 million in 2001.

Cities such as Mumbai, Agra and New Delhi, the capital, are growing as more villagers among India’s 1.2 billion population migrate in search of better paying jobs. They often end up in squatter settlements that lack basic facilities including drinking water and sanitation.

India’s cities could generate 70 percent of net new jobs created up to 2030, by when they will produce around 70 percent of gross domestic product and have driven a near fourfold increase in per capita incomes across the nation, McKinsey & Co. said in an April report.

India’s urban population grew from 290 million in 2001 to 340 million in 2008, and is projected to soar further to 590 million by 2030, it said. The nation’s economy has grown an average 8.5 percent annually during the past five years.

Although urban India has attracted investment on the back of strong growth, its cities are still failing to deliver basic standards of living for their residents after years of chronic underinvestment, McKinsey said.

India needs to invest $1.2 trillion in urban infrastructure over the next 20 years, equivalent to $134 per capita per year, almost eight times the level of spending today, it said.

In part to stem the flood of people fleeing to urban centers, the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rolled out a nationwide program to guarantee 100 days of employment for the poorest in a country where the World Bank estimates 76 percent of the population survives on less than $2 a day.