Slums of India and the role of the Private Sector

During my time here in India, the extreme differences between the wealthy and the impoverished and the close proximity in which they all live has been constantly striking. Humanity is 100% unavoidable and this fact infiltrates every part of daily life no matter where you live. Wether it be the number of servants constantly present in the house, the families of 8 living together in a one room slum shack or the experience of weaving along the roads through the people, bicycles, cows, scooters, motorbikes, rickshaws, taxi’s, trucks, and cars.

The other consequence of this is that you see people in ALL states, from impeccably dressed to wearing rags and begging for food. Walking side by side along the street.

and it is a rarity to attend a temple, particularly a hindu temple, without seeing some people with disabilities sitting patiently outside. For a foreigner this can be extremely confronting but is a completely standard part of life.

I found myself asking many questions about how the country has grown and the positive and negative affects this has had on the Indian people. A country as famous for it’s I.T and booming economy as it is infamous for it’s sprawling slums.

India’s Slums

A slum, as defined by the United Nations agency UN-HABITAT, is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing and squalor and lacking in tenure security. According to the United Nations, the proportion of urban dwellers living in slums decreased from 47 percent to 37 percent in the developing world between 1990 and 2005. However, due to rising population, the number of slum dwellers is rising. One billion people worldwide live in slums and the figure will likely grow to 2 billion by 2030

The number of people living in slums in India has more than doubled in the past two decades and now exceeds the entire population of Britain, the Indian Government has announced

It is vicious cycle of population growth, opportunities in the cities (leading to migration to the cities), poverty with low incomes, tendency to be closer to work hence occupying any land in the vicinity etc. The key reason is cited to be the slow economic progress. After independence in 1947, commercial and industrial activity needed cheap labor in the cities which was plentifully available in the rural area. They were encouraged to come to cities and work and people, who migrated to the cities and found work, brought their cousins and rest of the families to the cities. Unable to find housing and afford it, they decided to build their shelter closer to work. First, one shelter was built, then two and then two thousand and then ten thousand and on and on. Governments in many ways have perpetuated the problem with conniving politicians providing electricity and drinking water as the slums are seen as a ‘vote bank’. They organized these unauthorized dwellers into a political force; hence slums took a much more a permanent shape. The most notorious of India’s slums are in Mumbai but the same problem is affecting most, if not all, of the countries the major and growing cities.

Punes Slums

Pune is a rapidly expanding prosperous city and the second largest urban agglomerate in the state of Maharashtra. The city has become a major centre for industry over the last three decades and is now also emerging as a key location for information technologies. Despite its prosperity, Pune continues to suffer from some quite inefficient networks: bad roads, dysfunctional telephone and electricity lines, inadequate drainage, water and sewerage networks. The city might be an IT hub and a centre of learning, but it is fast gaining another epithet, that of a city of slums. 37 per cent of Pune’s population, an estimated 14 000 000 people, live in slums. Every year, the number of people migrating to the city will continue to multiply. According to Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) estimates, some 88,000 people migrated to the city in 2006, of which 45,000 settled in the slums.

Part of the confusion in regards to forming a solution can be attributed to a lack of will to consider slum dwellers as ‘citizens’ whose needs have to be taken into consideration along with the rest of the city. Slum dwellers are not considered valid city dwellers and therefore they are not included in mainstream planning. Pune’s slum population is scattered across the whole city and the state of Maharashtra has introduced a number of Acts for the improvement and Clearance of Slums. The growing disparity between the wealth of the booming industry and expanding slums is a disconcerting issue that residents are constantly confronted by. Out of site out of mind isn’t an option here. For example: i went to the gym the other day, a grand, glass window complex with top of the range facilities. As i was running on the italian treadmill – i was looking out the glass to a slum, JUST in front of the building.

A key question arises – will the current hype in economical development in India alter the landscape for the very poor ? For me, the answer is, if the Private sector continues to expand its charitable programs and share even a small percentage of it’s wealth, then yes. From what i have gathered, the most effective work being done for the slums (work which focuses on training and healthcare, not one of infrastructural donations that are not maintained) is by the Private Sector, not the government.

Forbes Marshall: A shining example of the potential contribution of the private sector to the immediate community

The other day I was fortunate enough to hear about and experience first hand, the work being done for one of Punes slums.

Good friends of my friends run a well-known Steam Engineering firm called “Forbes Marshall” and they are doing an incredible amount of good work for the slums near their factory. We first visited the factory to talk to one of the programs managers to get an understanding of what it is that they do.

Below is some information I obtained from an article on the company, click here to read the full script.

Industrial growth brings in its wake various social problems and it is the moral and social duty of the corporate sector to address them“, says Darius M Forbes of Forbes Marshall, Pune. For over half a century, Forbes Marshall has been involved with steam engineering and control instrumentation solutions that work for process industry. But the group is proud of much more than just the products they make. They are committed to creating a progressive work culture that puts people first. They are concerned with the community beyond their factory’s gate.

When we purchased about 10 acres of land from various farmers in Pune (at Rs 2,500 per acre) for our factory, we realised that they would be ‘cash rich’ for only a short period of time. What would become of them after the money ran out? So we decided to create employment opportunities for them through vocational training, especially for their children.” Today we run a hospital and several other welfare, education and development programmes.

During our discussion with one of the Forbes representitives, the lady told us that the Company (Privately owned) contributed 3-5% of it’s profits each year to the programs that help the slums. 3-5% !

“We are not doing anyone a favour. And it is not charity either. It is our social obligation. We are simply giving back to society what we gained from them. It is a process of harmonious living with our neighbours.

A Forbes Marshall 'Prerna' primary schoo

He adds a word of caution however, “The company should not stretch its program beyond a place from which it cannot be effective.” He feels that in order to be really effective a company should endeavor to bring about socio-economic change in its immediate neighborhood. Companies these days who are genuinely wanting to make a positive difference (not just for publicity) are not content with just writing out a cheque to some NGO and forgetting about it. But it seems that finding a credible NGO is an increasingly uphill task. India has between 1.5-2 million ‘civil society organisations’, the largest number of NGOs per capita! So, many prefer a hands-on approach. That isn’t easy either, particularly because social initiatives, by nature, are often so far removed from a business organization’s core competencies. As Rati Forbes, director of Forbes Marshall, observes, “Companies don’t know how to give, even when they want to give.”

Another problem is that corporate giving is often determined by what cause is in vogue. Businesses tend to attach themselves to short-term projects that look good on paper. But not Forbes, they are incredibly low key in how they go about their work. Forbes feels it is “‘Satisfaction’ — that expression one sees on the face of the person whose life one may have touched, that is the true benefit one derives.

One of my personal worries is that there is actually not enough publicity for Forbea! They have a group of partner NGO’s whom they get together with, but i believe there would be alot of benefit if they could share their experience gained from over 20yrs of hard work and problem solving to a wider community

The sheer grunt work that has gone into creating and adapting their programs to truly benefit the people of the slums and combat many of their issues is incredible. The power of the women’s groups that have been set up, span from self managed (but regulated by Forbes) micro-financing practices to confronting community members who condone or commit acts of domestic violence.

The beauty of the program (which includes formal education, skills/jobs training, counseling, personal development, nutrition, HIV awareness and MANY, many more such things) is that at every level it encourages participation and motivation by the people of the Slums and money is never simply given in the form of cash handouts. The people have adopted the companies long-term view of their relationship and the benefits it brings. What they have already succeeded in doing is phenomenal. By truly caring for its neighborhood a company earns respect, confidence, goodwill and the support of the local community. We were able to see for ourselves when we visited it after the conversation. I was preparing myself for sickly children, dirty streets, the houses in complete disrepair and a hostile vibe towards me being a foreigner, or at least several attempts to beg for money. I could not have been MORE WRONG!

We asked at the last minute if we could visit the slums and a lady from the community happened to be at the factory so we went back with her.

We had turned up at the slum community unexpectedly so we knew that none of it was being put on for us, it was completely genuine snapshot of their daily lives which was an extremely special thing to be part of.

Children walked along beside us, giggling with delight when I showed them the photographs I’d taken of them.

The streets were spotless

and all of the days washing were neatly hung along clotheslines.

This was nothing compared to how spotless their homes were! There was clearly so much pride in both their community and the few possessions they had – which almost always included a tv! Everyone needs a bit of entertainment. It was really quite tiny with of just one cot/bed, a cupboard, a small kitchen and if you were fortunate, a toilet.

The pride of the sweet lady in her children far surpassed that which she held for her spotless house. One was sewing a sari and the children were all learning English, a hugely valuable thing. Both these things impossible without Forbes Marshall and the education facilities they provide

Outside the beautiful bright colours contrasted with those of the women’s sari’s

And children wandered around freely, completely comfortable and safe in their surroundings

whilst others played cricket along the narrow laneways

Everywhere i looked i was completely fascinated

– it was a photographers paradise

It was also very thought provoking and highlighted that with opportunity, a close community and the right attitude, people can happily adapt and live in conditions that I would have previously considered nightmarish. It was such a unique experience – I think I was the first foreigner to have visited!

A once in a life-time opportunity and encounter which i could never forget



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4 responses to “Slums of India and the role of the Private Sector

  1. Talya

    Hey Hollie,
    These photos are gorgeous.
    Hope you’re having an amazing time.

  2. sally

    Facinating and beautifully orchestrated blog

    Love Mum

  3. Sandy White

    Hi Holly

    Facinating reading about the country I was born in and know so little of.

    Thank you for sharing you insight. Keep safe.



  4. margaretbiggs

    Forbes Marshall is doing a wonderful job. You have been lucky to see what can be achieved. the children look happy & well fed. I am learning alot.Lots of love ,margoo xxxooo

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