Cover Image
close this bookLiving Conditions of Low-income Older Persons in Human Settlements UNCHS (Habitat) (HABITAT, 1999, 38 p.)
close this folderPART 3
close this folderIV. COUNTRY CASE STUDIES
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSydney, Australia
View the documentSantiago, Chile
View the documentBeijing, China
View the documentCairo, Egypt
View the documentBudapest, Hungary
View the documentNew Delhi, India
View the documentKingston, Jamaica
View the documentNairobi, Kenya
View the documentManila, Philippines
View the documentCape Town, South Africa
View the documentAnkara, Turkey
View the documentUnited States of America, the city of Newark/New Jersey

New Delhi, India

The 20 survey questionnaires completed under the supervision of Dr. Shubha Soneja, Head, Research and Development Division of HelpAge India, assisted by Ms. Maneeta Sawhney, Research Associate reveal deplorable living conditions in the slums of New Delhi. The surveys undertaken in three areas showed that the national, state and local governments provide very little direct assistance to the ageing, but are making efforts to provide some shelter assistance and improve basic services. However, the City government provides health, transport, water supply and waste disposal, and has a programme to improve the living environments of poor communities.

A sample of 20 elderly over 60 years was taken from three different slums in Delhi. These were the Ekta Vihar, RK Puram, Sector VI, New Delhi; the Jungpura- B, Madras Colony near Nizamuddin Railway station; and the J.P. Colony near L.N.J.P. Hospital, New Delhi. The sample was taken randomly irrespective of caste, religion, socio-economic status, sex or place of origin, and included 10 males and 10 females.


1. Ekta Vihar, Sector VI, RK Puram, New Delhi

Located 15 km to the south of the centre of Delhi this slum occupies 1980 square metres. There are 612 households with a population of about 6,000 people. It is situated beside a sewage wastewater canal, which produces foul odors, and an open dump. In rainy season the canal floods adjacent houses. It is surrounded by well-off colonies on three sides and served in the north by a pitch road.

Nearly 15 years old this slum was previously a temporary unauthorized hutment, but about 10 years ago the local government made it a permanent resettlement in which each hut owner was given title to a piece of land and Rs.15,000 to construct a house of one room and a kitchen. According to local government definition this slum is now an authorized resettlement. It can be reached by road and path, and is provided with electricity, waste collection, fire and police protection and a public telephone. The nearest hospital or clinic is 8 km away reached by public transport. An NGO: ASHA provides health services for a nominal fee.

2. Jungpura-B, Jhopari Madras Colony

Containing 750 people on 1500 square metres this area is 15 km southeast of the city centre and consists of a relatively new colony of huts located beside a railroad with a big open wastewater canal to the north. It also is foul smelling due an open dump and human excreta. Garbage is scattered all over and the area is covered with black dust and smoke as well as loud noise from the passing trains. The same public services are provided as in Ekta Vihar, but the clinic is 10 km distant.

This slum consists of temporary, removable unauthorized hutment’s. It evolved on unauthorized railway land and can be removed at any time by the local government. Smaller than the other two, this is a new settlement, less than 10 years old, consisting of scattered and less dense hutment’s. Air pollution is prevalent in this area, mainly due to train smoke, the open garbage dump, cooking on wood fires and auto traffic. There are no public toilets so the dwellers have to use open land by the railroad tracks and the canal. Train noise is also a problem.

3. J.P. Colony, Ranjit Singh

This slum is situated in the middle of Delhi. I t is surrounded by a hospital in the east, New Delhi Railway station in the west, pitch road and turkman gate of the Walled City of Old Delhi in the north and Minto bridge in the south. Its area is about 2000 square metres and contains nearly 1400 households with 7000 people. Nearly 25 years old this is a very crowded, dense permanent settlement. It is served by good roads, sewer lines, drains and public toilets. Pollution is prevalent due to the rush of vehicles on the surrounding roads. This colony was created under the Slum Resettlement Programme, which provides financial housing assistance.

People living in all three areas seem to share the same difficult living conditions. Practically all dwellings consist of one room in which extended families of 4 to 6 or more live. 18 of the 20 people interviewed claimed to own their homes (but this may not include the land). All sorts of building material were listed, including bricks for at least part of 15 of the houses. Earth was also cited by 11, which was probably for the floors rather than the walls. Others mentioned block and wood. None said they had a yard or garden. Sanitary facilities consisted of outdoor taps and public toilets (which many said they did not use because of the charges. All said there were outdoor bath/showers, but this may also have been the tap. Electricity was available (in some cases illegally tapped), and the other fuel mentioned was oil. Public waste disposal and street cleaning was cited, but other comments indicated that these were not very efficient. Police and fire protection, were provided and no residents complained about security and safety which is very different from most other countries.


Society and Culture

The social composition of these slums is unique with all sorts of people of different social and cultural backgrounds. The majority belongs to the lower castes, but higher castes are also represented. The uniqueness of slum society is that economic criteria are more important than caste levels. Those who belong to the poorest economic levels in rural areas, irrespective of their castes, migrated to urban areas for their livelihood and settled in the slums, as these were the only places they could find shelter. So caste and religion do not matter; they all constitute a society, the society of lower people, which is a slum society.

In Ekta Vihar there are nearly all castes and two religions: Hindu and Muslim. There is a Temple, but no church or mosque. The dwellers go to the temple. People are grouped in terms of their local politics. Drinking, card playing, beating drums, etc. are prevalent. They practice the religious rituals of their native rural villages. The Hindus practice their festival Holi, Diwali, Deshehra, etc. and the Muslims practice their Ed, Eidul-Azaha, Muharram, etc. The elderly visit the temples or mosques to have meetings, recreation and for festivals. Social and cultural activities of slum dwellers are very similar, differing only in their native background. For example in Jungpura nearly all come from the south Indian states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They are all Hindus and their culture is South India. They generally speak Tamil language, but those who have lived in Delhi for a long time speak Hindi also. In this slum the majority are Dalits (lower castes). In the JP Colony the majority of the dwellers are Muslims. There is a mosque and the elderly go there to pray (Namaz).


Migration is common for the slum dwellers. In almost all households some members migrate to their native places from time to time. Therefore, their native place, rather than the slum, is a permanent inheritance for them. There they have purchased some land; their parents and other family members live there, so their kinship bond exists even after migrating to urban areas and settling in slums. They visit their villages at times of relatives’ marriages, festivals and the harvest season. The slum dwellers belong to different states of West Bangal, Assam, Orissa, Tamil, Nadu, Madhya, Pradesh, Rajasthan, etc. Hence there is a constant urban to rural movement of people, and vice versa. Due to migration exact demographic data are not available. Population estimates are based on the number of households. However, there are statistics on health, mortality and birth rates, age and sex ratios.


The slum society has a unique economy. Slum dwellers are the lowest economic level of urban society. They have to fend for their bread by doing whatever work is available irrespective of their caste or religion. The majority are casual labourers while some are skilled and semi-skilled masons, white-washer, construction laborers, etc. Women are maid servants in well-off colonies. Some are safe karmacharies (sewagers) with local government. Economic conditions of the elderly are very poor. Those who are able to work cannot find jobs due to their age. In the Madras Colony some were railway workers as coolies, cleaners, etc. on a casual basis. The teenagers work as servants at tea stalls and roadside restaurants. Some are engaged in cottage industries like sewing clothes, making wood furniture, etc. Few slum dwellers have salaried jobs in private firms or in the public sector.


Age: Three fourths of the elderly surveyed were in the age group 60-69. 10% were in their 70’s and 15% were in their 80’s. Housing conditions: Housing conditions of the slum dwellers is very poor. The majority live in small temporary huts of one room and a kitchen made of jute, poly papers and earth. Permanent dwellings are called houses or homes; temporary structures are called huts. Out of 20 dwellings only 8 were permanent, built of brick and cement. Living space inside the dwellings is very limited for the elderly. It is obvious that the majority of elderly (17 out of 20) have inadequate living space as they sleep in a single room with at least several others. Two elderly were bound to sleep outside the house in temporary shacks, which hardly contained a small cot. Living space for the elderly and home ownership is correlated.

Those who own the house sleep in it and receive better care.

Household composition: The type and composition of family is unique due to two aspects: unlike rural areas there is no joint family system, but no elderly lives alone. Families are either nuclear or extended. Out of 20 elderly, 9 were nuclear (with spouse) and 11 were extended with 7 or more members. Hence, in urban slums the elderly get support and care in the extended families.

Community services: Water is provided at several public taps and there are also several hand pumps, some of which are defective. At times during the summer season there are shortages and water is not supplied through the taps. Slum dwellers then have to buy water from private tankers. Out of 20 elderly, 4 take baths inside the house and 11 outside. No elderly use public baths. Public toilets are available at Re.1 per use. Although the toilets are not properly cleaned 11 elderly said they nevertheless used them, while 8 prefer to use open land on the side of the canal, and only one has a private toilet in his house. Waste disposal is provided by the local government personnel, but not regularly, and due to irregular removal there are open dumps near the slums, which cause pollution.

Utilities: The main sources of fuel are electricity and kerosene, but some use wood for cooking. No one uses coal because it is too costly and not available. Most of the houses had illegal electric connections and thus stole the electricity. The cost of fuel was affordable to some, but 8 said it was too expensive. Kerosene is available from government ration shops at an affordable price, but black market cost is excessive. Wood is collected from the nearby jungles and bushes, and some take it from their masters’ houses where they work.

Police and fire protection: Police and fire protection is provided. However the attitude of slum dwellers towards the police was not good, as the police do not come in times of need. In recent incidents of fire the services were unable to save the dwellings. Street lighting is very poor. Only the front side of the light was working and people have to provide their own outdoor lighting.

Health services: The Municipal Corporation of Delhi provides primary health centres, which provide limited services to all age groups. Complete medical treatment facilities are provided by the general city hospitals. In Ekta Vihar there is an NGO called “ASHA” providing health services, but not exclusively for the elderly. They charge Rs4/- for a registration card and provide free check-ups, but medicines have to be purchased outside. However, in the other two slums even this facility is not available. The J.P. Colony is next to the two big city hospitals, but the problem of medicines remains. Some government health workers and NGOs distribute medicines in the slums occasionally. Other services: There are no community centres, libraries, parks and recreation areas for the elderly or others in these slums. No facilities for meal delivery or inter-generational programmes.

Personal Characteristics: (Physical Health) No elderly reported that their health was excellent or good. 7 reported their health as fair while 13 cited poor conditions. Of the 7 reporting fair bonehead walking difficulty, 4 had weak eyesight, 3 were hard of hearing and 3 cited no specific problems. Of those who reported their health as poor, 10 had severe walking difficulties of which 3 were using sticks or crutches; 2 were completely disabled, unable to stand.

Transport: For elderly there is a concession in the fare of buses on all city routes if they have a monthly pass. However, hardly any elderly in the slums take monthly bus passes. No special seats are reserved for the elderly although there are posted instructions to give seats to senior citizens. Yet, there are seats reserved for women. A majority of the elderly use the bus to go to the hospitals; some use it to go shopping or to churches.

Communication: Slum dwellers generally use the postal system, though there are local and long distance telephones everywhere in the city, in or near the slums. However, since phones do no exist in the rural areas where most peoples’ families live, they prefer to use the postal services. Mail is delivered to some of the houses; others receive mail at their work places. For media communications, 3 had TV sets, 3 had radios and only one had a telephone in the house. The remaining 7 elderly had no such facilities.

Finances: A person of any age group, who is physically able to work, works. Some elderly were willing to set up petty shopping, selling vegetables, tea stall or Dhabi, etc., but were unable to do so because of the lack of financing. Seven elderly were doing casual jobs, shopping or working as servants. A few were in railways as coolies. Five were not working due to physical disability or illness. Others were active in social and political activities, doing some non-economic activities or housekeeping: cooking, caring for children, etc.


The most prevalent difficulties faced by the older people are lack of adequate space, health care and sanitary facilities in addition to the filthy environment. Due to lack of living space, some are forced to sleep outdoors. Surprisingly, the males interviewed outnumbered the females 11 to 8, which is not true in other countries. Most have only lived in New Delhi for less than 20 years.

Practically all the people surveyed are totally dependent upon their families for their existence. Thus, there is a high level of insecurity and fear of abandonment. Some are also forced to endure physical and emotional abuse by their family members. Most feel they are a burden to the family, especially those who are disabled. It is noteworthy that in comparison with the reports from some of the other countries, the elderly in India find or seek some means of livelihood to alleviate their desperate conditions. Only 3 said they had pensions from previous employers, and no government pensions were mentioned.