Urban Squatters and Slums
Understanding Urban Squatter Settlement Development Processes:
Some observations from Bengaluru, India

Hari Srinivas
Concept Note Series E-154. April 2022.

Abstract In order to effect upgradation of urban low-income settlements in South Asia, it is imperative to understand the processes of settlement development temporally and qualitatively. Using data collected from a primary survey of six squatter settlements in Bengaluru, India, two generative processes that consolidate a settlement were observed: the organic process (development forces that act from within the settlement) and the induced process (development forces that act from outside the settlement).

These processes are intrinsically linked to the stages of development that a settlement undergoes. Understanding such links would help in developing an enabling environment to be created so that actors, both internal and external to the settlements, and their roles to be played in the process of overall settlement development can be identified.


oncentration of goods and services in urban areas has long been recognized to create positive externalities in the form of, for example, economies of scale. It has also generated a GDP far in excess of their shares of total population. Experience shows that ". . . although the concentration of population and economic activities in large cities may stimulate higher levels of economic growth in the short run, it has a tendency to generate spatial polarization, economic dualism, social inequity and diseconomies of scale in the long run that can slow the pace of national economic development." (UN-ESCAP, 1992).

One of the forms in which such dualities and inequities emerge starkly is that of squatter settlements and slums, peopled by very low-income families. Usually, two self-reinforcing issues play out in creating such a situation: insufficient action of governments (or lack of it) and low-resource holdings of the urban poor themselves. As a result, the poor almost entirely depend on their own resources in order to built and improve their habitat. This has also led to the spawning of a large informal economic sector that assists such activities.

Overlaps between the "formal" and "informal" sectors exist, each aiding or, occasionally, inhibiting actions of the other. In the case of squatter settlement development, several processes run parallel, some duplicating and intertwining with each other. Any effort to improve squatter settlements have to take such processes into consideration in order for it to be viable. This paper attempts to identify such processes to facilitate effective intervention, encouragement and support, so as to ".....restore to the people, the power to decide on their own lives....." as defined by Rabindranath Tagore more than 75 years ago.

1. Background to the Study

Material presented here forms part of a larger study on supply and demand in urban informal credit markets and its role in low-income housing made during 1991 in Bengaluru, India. Bengaluru is the capital of Karnataka State in southern India, the fifth largest city after Bombay, Calcutta, New Delhi and Madras. With a population of 4.1 million in 1991, it had one of the highest decadal growth rates at 76.17 per cent for 1981-91.

The total slum population in Bengaluru is 614,000 (1981) which is about 13.8 percent of the City population. Population density in these slums works out to be about 503 persons per acre. In terms of households, there are a total 893,000 households, of which 122,000 live in slums. About 83.3 percent squat on public land, and the remaining are on private lands [KSCB, 1990]. The slum population in 1993 stood at about 30 percent of the total city population.

Data used in the analysis for this paper was collected from a survey of 254 households in six squatter settlements done in June-July, 1991. Besides, a series of interviews and discussions with three different sources was also carried out: one, from within the settlement itself - the settlement leaders, members of the executive committee of the people's organizations in the study settlements, shopkeepers etc.; two, from sources external to the settlement - resource persons, NGO officials, social workers, government officers, commercial bank managers; and three, from published materials.

2. The Generative Process of Settlement Development

Third world countries have faced rapid urbanization for a variety of reasons, due to both "push" and "pull" factors. The causes and theories for this migration to urban areas have been widely discussed in relevant literature. This migration has however, led to formation of informal settlements within urban areas, and a number of reasons have contributed to this situation: lack of access to land for house construction and its prohibitive costs, lack of government will and commitment for action or their non action in housing the urban poor and so on. While this is not a topic for discussion in this paper, the process of settlement development itself is an interesting study, in face of the various shortcomings and limitations.

Settlement development is essentially influenced by the degree of homogeneity existing in a settlement. Homogeneity is the cohesiveness exhibited by the settlement as it develops over time. The defining attributes for homogeneity could be internal to a particular settlement or external. These are presented in Table 1 .

Table 1: Settlement Attributes
Internal Attributes External Attributes
  • Religion/Ethnicity
  • Work Place
  • Place of Origin
  • Language spoken
  • Length of Stay in the Settlement
  • Job/Social Status
  • Investment in Housing
  • Construction Activity
  • Presence of Renters
  • Land Owner
  • Tenure Security
  • Municipal/Government Policies
  • Length of Stay in the City
Source: Field Interviews

Homogeneity defines the character of the settlement and leads to a certain degree of kinship within the residents. This in turn affects the form and phase of development, and degree of consolidation of the settlement. These characteristics are not isolated; they consolidate and strengthen each other. On a careful study of the information collected during the survey, it was apparent that there were two processes that influenced the formation and development of a settlement: the "organic" and "induced" processes.

1. The Organic Process

The organic process of settlement development refers to forces and pressures that are initiated from within the settlement and squatter. They are evolved naturally, without any outside intervention and using internal resources of the household or settlement for development, such as own labour, locally available building materials etc.

The process commences with the "appropriation" of land by the migrant low income family. Land ownership may rest with the government or private parties. Sometimes, in the case of private land owners, the land may be rented for a nominal amount. For example, before one of the study settlements was improved by the Slum Clearance Board [SCB], the residents were paying the owner a sum of Rs. 20 or US$ 0.64 per month (approximately 15 years ago) as "rent" .

The process of actual squatting does not have an "end" as such. Not only are houses built and upgraded piece by piece over time, but new houses are built in adjoining open areas. Thus, credit is mobilized and a material is purchased, or a building component is repaired and upgraded. The proof of this process is in the existence of consolidated, mixed and non consolidated areas in a settlement. Those areas close to a main thoroughfare or commercial areas generally develop first. Gradually as time passes, the houses in the old areas (the consolidated ones) are upgraded and new houses (mixed and non consolidated ones) come up in areas further beyond the main thoroughfare [Figure 1].

2. The Induced Process

The induced process of development essentially refers to "inducement" set up by agencies and organizations that are external to the settlement. Operating with objectives and goals on a larger and city wide scale, they initiate programmes for the overall development of the entire city or a particular aspect, such as health or education.

The inducement can come from two sources:

  1. From the government, through the state-level SCB and other agencies or departments.
  2. From the private sector, through NGOs and other voluntary groups.

Figure 1: Consolidated, Mixed and Non-consolidated Areas

Prominent among these process is the one initiated by the SCB under its slum improvement programme. A reconnaissance and "status" report of squatter settlements is prepared, followed by a complete census survey. The condition of the settlement is determined based on several rules and regulations laid out by the government. Once the SCB is satisfied with the "slum" conditions in the settlement, it is empowered to declare it as a slum and initiate improvement programmes on the same site, or relocate the residents to a new location.

Improvement of the settlement's physical and environmental condition is the direct and intended effect of SCB's programmes. However, there is an unintended effect that is interesting and has considerable implication for overall economic and developmental activity in the settlement. When the SCB declares a settlement as a slum, it effectively locks the land from any transactions or sale. Therefore the squatters can stay indefinitely in the same location (though land itself is not sold to the resident) without any "official" harassment. This develops a sense of perceived tenure in the squatters which encourages them to invest more in housing or to upgrade their existing house. This urge to invest in the house also increases the need for more intensive community participation. The residents in a declared settlement are, for example, still not eligible for formal sector loans because they do not own the land itself. While the trends explained above were observed in the study settlements, some authors have decried such unintended effects of SCB declaration, saying that it has no lasting effect on a settlement's development. This, of course, is particularly true when the land is owned by private persons and therefore, relocation or land-sharing may be the only options).

The link between organic and induced processes develops as a result of three probable causes:

  • A crisis may occur, for natural, political, or other reasons, which would necessitate outside intervention from the government or private organizations.
  • An active people's organization from within the settlement may bring in pressure to deliver services and facilities for their settlement.
  • An active NGO may initiate settlement improvement and other development programmes within a settlement as a part of it's own outreach.

For example, in one of the settlements studied, all three of the above causes took place: the whole settlement and adjoining areas were flooded in 1986. This prompted not only the government to provide interim relief for affected families and initiate improvements through the SCB, but several NGOs and other groups offered aid and assistance on the short term and helped in the formation of a people's organization in the settlement. The people themselves came forward, especially the youth, by forming a "Youth Welfare Association" to coordinate assistance from within the settlement.

Figure 2: The Organic and Induced Processes of Settlement Development

The ability of the residents to mobilize resources from within the settlement as well as from outside in terms of "people's resources" is a critical aspect which needs to be utilized in any settlement development programme.

3. Consolidative Stages of Settlement Development

Thus, if the organic and induced processes are taken together, it can be observed that settlements develop in a series of consolidative stages. Any generalization from the process presented here has to be done with caution because a number of objective as well as subjective variables are involved, (for example, land ownership, location of the settlement in the city, population size, activeness of the local and settlement leaders, NGO activities and so on). Besides some of the events shown may be circumvented or bypassed. These are four stages explained below (See Figure 2):

  1. Initial Settlement
  2. Preliminary Consolidation
  3. Declaration of a Slum
  4. Settlement Improvement

1. Initial Settlement: Stage One covers the steps of Arrival and Construction of basic shelter. In this stage, the new migrant arrives at the vacant land to squat and then builds a very basic shelter with temporary and second hand or waste materials. Of the three settlements studied, two were on public lands, while the other was on private land. Figures released by SCB (Table 2) in this respect for the whole city is reveling:

Table 2: Number of Settlements in
Various Locations in Bengaluru
Land Owner Number of Settlements
a. BDA Lands64
b. BCC Lands54
c. Private Lands273
Total 401
Source: KSCB Progress Report, 1990

The primary objective of this stage is to find a "place" to build a rudimentary shelter, and provide for basic necessities.

2. Preliminary Consolidation: At this stage, more improvements take place, both at the household level as well as the settlement level. At the household level, upgradation of materials used, and repair and maintenance of building materials are done. At the settlement level, streets are laid out temporarily and arrangements for other infrastructure provisions are made. Gradually, linkages will be built in this stage, both within and outside the settlement. It also includes identification of leaders of the settlement who would take the initiative of lobbying for various services and can effectively voice the settlement in outside forums.

One of the main objectives of this stage is to develop linkages within and outside the settlement so that their quality of life could be improved

Table 3: Comparison of Settlement and Credit Characteristics
Con.*Characteristics of the SettlementCharacteristics of the Residents


  • Very Loose Organization
  • Homogeneity not established
  • Shelters made of temporary and second-hand materials
  1. Low kinship between residents
  2. Daily wages and unskilled jobs
  3. Switching of jobs common
  4. Single-wage earner in the family


  • Settlement/house quality improved as a result of linkages developed in work and locality
  • Temporary services like water (from well or public tap) established, but not within the settlement
  • Better jobs, weekly wages
  • Family size increased and multiple-wages
  • Skill development at the work place
  • Savings may have accumulated
  • Longer periods, on a single job


  • Declared as a slum, therefore people can continue to stay on the land: perceived tenure develops
  • People's organization started and pressures government for community services
  • Better jobs, longer periods on same job
  • Skills developed
  • Family enterprises and home-based industries started
  • High kinship and ties between families and households


  • Better infrastructure and services
  • Better settlement quality and hygiene
  • Increased and diversified activities of the people's organization, more members
  • Increased income and more wage-earners in the family
  • Increased savings/ permanent jobs, few also in the formal sector
  • More informal sector industrial activities
Source: Interviews with settlement leaders and resource persons

* Consolidative Stages:

  1. Initial Settlement
  2. Preliminary Consolidation
  3. Declaration of a Slum
  4. Settlement Improvement

3. Declaration of a Slum: This is one of the most critical stages in the development of a settlement. It is also a common stage for entry of external agents for settlement development. In Narayanaswami Garden settlement, it was at this stage of development that the youth's association was formed and external NGOs came into the picture to help convene community meetings and assist in obtaining ration cards or inclusion in the voters' list . Figure 3 shows the process of declaration of a slum.

Figure 3: Process of Declaration of a Slum

The following events generally take place in this stage:

  1. A people's organization, either a general one or towards a specific group is formed. For example, women's groups, youth groups or educational groups and political and religious groups functioning in the squatter settlement.
  2. After the group has been formed and leaders chosen, activities for the group are charted. Thus, pressurizing the SCB to inspect and declare the slum becomes one of the main thrusts of their activities.
  3. Under the Slums (Clearance and Improvement) Act, 1973, the SCB is empowered to inspect, survey and declare settlements as slums. Thus the next step is for the SCB to determine the degree of "dilapidation" in the slum and recommend that the settlement be declared as a "slum" so that improvement programmes can be initiated.Thus, declaration of the slum becomes an important objective of this stage in settlement development.
  4. Settlement Improvement: Declaration of the slum, a mentioned earlier, acts as an incentive for the residents of the settlement to invest in their housing since the threat of eviction or "official harassment" has been effectively removed. One of the settlement leaders mentioned that after the settlement was declared as a settlement, the investment into housing increased dramatically.

Increased investment, stimulated by the declaration, results in improved housing. Besides this indirect effect, there is also the direct effect in the form of improvement programmes initiated by the SCB and other municipal bodies. As a consequence of all this, there is overall settlement and housing improvement and development. It is interesting to study the relationships between characteristics of the settlement and the residents as they progress through the consolidative stages [Table 3].

4. Effecting Consolidation

Three key actors emerge who have pivotal roles to play in the progression of consolidation. They are the People themselves, NGOs and Government agencies/bodies. The internal strengths and resources of these actors can be effectively used in the consolidation and improvement of the settlements. The participation of these three actors as a "triangle" is crucial when we realize that the shortcomings and mistrust in contacts between any two actors (say the government and the people) is solved by the mediation and problem-solving approach of the third actor.

  1. People contribute by forming an association or organization among the residents, contribute with commitments to self-improvement and assistance, community mobilized finance;
  2. NGOs contribute training and management resources, community meetings, information workshops, skill dissemination, education and other activities, volunteer services, monitoring and evaluation;
  3. Government agencies effect tenure security, community services, finance and grants, settlement improvement programmes and projects etc.

A number of secondary actors can enter the picture by providing motivation and support to the primary actors. These include commercial banks ( for special finance and credit services), educational and research institutions (for research, training and development resources, background information, surveys), other People's Organizations (for support and solidarity, information, training materials and case studies). Besides, it is critical to understand not only the actors and their actions, but also the preconditions under which their optimum participation can be ensured and the intended effects of various actions are met.

5. Conclusions

Compared to the organic process, an "inducement" for settlement development in the form of a declaration accelerates the pace of development, increasing the people's desire to develop and upgrade their home and settlement.

The process of settlement development takes place in a series of consolidative stages each of which has a set of substages, with a goal of overall settlement development. The stages are not conclusive in their outcome, in the sense that they represent a continuum with one stage overlapping or sometimes running parallel to the others. Besides they are cumulative in their effects and not exclusive.

Understanding these processes helps in developing viable programmes and projects that identify the actors at the settlement level, as well as external actors who will initiate, enable and support such local and city-wide actions. Preconditions for the involvement of these actors have to be clarified, so that the intended effects can be realized. Such insights will help in paving the way for an integrated approach, which will avoid duplication or overlapping of developmental efforts, channelling resources where they are most needed.


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