THE LIGHT OF ANDAMANS | VOL 35 | ISSUE 16 | 14 OCT 2011
By Abu Arsh
Not many need an introduction to Slumdog Millionaire, a movie based on Dharavi slums in Mumbai as a backdrop which fetch us 3 Oscar Awards. Leaving the millionaire aside (as most of us in our lifetime cannot dream of being one), the term Slumdog does arouse our conscious. If the passion it has aroused could be directed towards a mass movement to combat the evils of the slum and to eliminate the slums altogether in stages, that would be an appropriate response to the movie. We are made to believe in the falsity that there is no poverty in A&N Islands; we have a clean and serene environment. Few of us may argue that there are in excess of 10000 rural Below Poverty Line households in our UT. There is also a sizeable bunch of people who live in Urban hell holes which otherwise can be called slums of A& N Islands. Many of the inhabitants of these shanty localities may not be exactly poor but the conditions they live in are highly repulsive.
Though the entire Port Blair town has some natural lush green surroundings, it can be said that things here are not planned aesthetically or with a vision for any future expansion. This green cover and open spaces are fast eroding. Our markets are cramped, roads are insufficient, drains are clogged and buildings are stuffed close to each other. That too- with all the rules and regulations governing building construction in place under the watchful eye of the Administration. Amidst all this muck are localities which would give slums anywhere else in India a run for its money. Localities in Haddo, Junglighat, Dairy Farm, Aberdeen, Anarkali, Nayagaon, Bhatubasti, Patharguda, Austinabad, Shorepoint, Bambooflat, Hopetown- to name a few would be a nightmare for planners of urban and suburban/rural areas. These localities are colonies of economic migrants mostly from Andhra, Tamil Nadu and now from Bangladesh too.
These slums are commonly seen as "breeding grounds" for social problems such as alcoholism, high rates of mental illness, and suicide. They exhibit high rates of disease due to unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, and lack of basic health care. They have inadequate access to safe water; inadequate access to sanitation and other infrastructure; poor structural quality of housing; overcrowding; and insecure residential status. These slum dwellers live in very narrow alleys that do not allow vehicles (like ambulances and fire trucks) to pass. The lack of services such as routine garbage collection allows rubbish to accumulate in huge quantities. The lack of infrastructure is caused by the informal nature of settlement and no planning for the poor. Additionally, these settlements often face the brunt of natural and man-made disasters, such as landslides, as well as earthquakes and tropical storms. Fires can be a serious problem. These people have been off the Administrations radar on purpose as of now and only a major mishap will wake them up.
Many of these slum dwellers employ themselves in skilled-unskilled labour, fishing, domestic work and street vending. In some of these slums people even recycle trash of different kinds (from household garbage to electronics) for a living - selling either the odd usable goods or stripping broken goods for parts or raw materials. These localities add up being an eye sore for tourists who come visiting the islands. Rural depopulation with thousands migrating into Port Blair from outside makes slum clearance an uphill struggle.
As these slum dwellers have the numbers, they become the cynosure of local politician's eyes. They play an important role especially in the elections for local self governance bodies. They are allowed to spring up unauthorized colonies on govt. land, need no building plans, no setback or follow any bye-laws. Power and water can be made available or is stolen with the blessings of corrupt officials and politicians. A religious building will come up in these slums at important location functioning as a hub. Nomenclature of these slums will bear names of national level leaders of ruling parties. Identity cards and all benefits of various safety net initiatives by the govt. will be delivered at their doorsteps. What more can a Shanty town offer? This is not a matter of wanting to shove reality under the carpet.