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Report No. 138

Chapter III

Profile of Pavement Dwellers

3.1. An analysis of the situation obtaining in regard to pavement dwellers is contained in a very recent study.1 The analysis is quoted in extenso here:-

"The pavement dwellers are the houseless families literally living on the roadsides or in busy streets in the city and suburbs. Their dwellings are found in the vicinity of the railway stations, in the areas of commercial activity, around docks, and the localities in which the local authorities have provided public baths, latrines and urinals. Several families which have chosen the Bombay footpaths just for survival have been living there for varying durations of time from one to over fifteen years. Some are born there.

They erect temporary unauthorised structures, made up of plastic, polythene or cardboard sheets tied to a couple of bamboo sticks without any construction whatsoever. It is easy to put up structures, but easier to dismantle them especially when the occupants are apprehended by the enforcement authorities, but that rarely happens. Some families, perhaps the less enterprising ones, take shelter under rail or road bridges, flyovers, culverts or even in the huge cement pipes lying around in open space until the pipes are put to use.

1. P.K. Muttagi Urban Poverty: The Bombay Scene, (October-December 1988), Nagarlok, pp. 111, 114-115.

They erect a place of residence, they hardly reside in it. They live around it. They have no cooking facilities, no place to take bath or wash clothes and utensils, no adequate place to relax, no water and latrine facilities, and not even a residential address. While they have abundant and free access to the open sky-a facility rarely provided for, a modern type flat constructions, they are also more exposed to the elements of nature by way of wind and air, sun and rain. Perhaps they are among the poorest of the poor in urban areas. Although no exact figures are available, the present figure of the houseless population is likely to be in the region of two to three lakhs.

The pavement dwellers are a mixed and myriad crowd, quite a few having landed there as a result of the pull factors-the attraction that the city of Bombay holds for people from other parts of the country. There is also a large section of migrants who have been pushed out of their native place by circumstances such as floods, drought, poverty and unemployment, but even in these cases, it is equally true to say that both push and pull factors operate though the degree may vary. Most of these dwellers admit that their contact with the more fortunate neighbours in the nearby edifices is mostly casual, although some say they do odd jobs for them, like carrying a parcel or two for which they are paid on the spot. In a few cases, the women folk, dwelling on the pavements, are employed as domestic help by the nearby residents.

They do not resent their lot, nor do these affluent sections protest about the squatters with conviction enough to pose a serious threat to their way. The rich are content to dole out a few coins to the children along with a few choice invectives. The pavement dwellers in turn are content with the scraps and crumbs tossed to them by whim, fancy or fear. They are a peaceful lot otherwise, for they stand to lose their shelter on the pavement if they disturb the affluent or indulge in flights with their fellow dwellers.

Asked whether they were happy and contented with their existing way of life and were adjusted to it, the data oddly enough revealed that, by and large, these dwellers were rather satisfied with their lot, though there were some mixed reactions to be sure. Pavement dwelling is a deep-rooted malady. Although there are several poverty groups, the pavement dwellers are the poorest of the poor. In sum the poor living in the chawls are the least poor. Those living in the slumps are poorer than the chawl dwellers. The pavement dwellers are the poorest of the poor.

Further, the poor do not form a single and homogeneous group whether they live in chawl, slum or on pavement. Some of the poverty groups require very little help, others require massive effort on the part of the government and other public and private organisations to rehabilitate them. This is so because the poor include among others, the unemployed, the self-employed, the casual labour, the aged, the destitute, the beggar, the physically handicapped, the mentally sick and so on. Though lack of financial resources is common, each group has peculiar problems, handicaps and coping methods. To understand the special problems before planning any rehabilitation programmes a few illustrations are given as under.

A large number of the poor are able bodied persons. They do not want charity type of services or temporary relief. They look for avenues which help them to overcome poverty. They need jobs, want their basic needs to be satisfied and are concerned about their children's education and welfare. Investment in them is likely to be fruitful.

Several self-employed poor possess specialised skills. They are capable of producing certain consumer goods which have market. Some self-employed have acquired technique of selling goods and services. Such groups can overcome their poverty if they get some help. They need to be provided with adequate financial resources, facilities for producing better quality of goods and services, and guidance."

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