Filter +

Renewing the City: Efforts to Improve Life in Calcutta’s Urban Slums

Poverty and environmental degradation: Inside PM Basti, Howrah. (Achinto Bhadra)

Poverty and environmental degradation: Inside PM Basti, Howrah. (Achinto Bhadra)

Basti Improvement

Following a WHO study on Calcutta in the early 1960’s, which expressed serious concern about public health risks - in particular those arising from conditions in the bastis - a high-level planning effort to rescue Calcutta was taken up, with the support of the Ford Foundation. A Basic Development Plan (1966-86) was prepared. The Calcutta Urban Development Programme was taken up from 1970, with assistance from the World Bank. Basti improvement was a major element in this.

The Basti Improvement Programme (BIP) aimed at conversion of unsanitary toilets, provision of water taps, surface drainage facilities, construction and widening of roads and pathways, and provision of street lighting and waste disposal facilities within the bastis. After the coming to power of the Left Front government in the state of West Bengal in 1977, most basti lands were taken over by the state. But the right of the state to carry out developments on this land was impeded by a court ruling upholding the right of the intermediary tenant to undertake improvements to the existing basti structures. Through new legislation, the rights of the intermediate tenants were restricted, while the tenure security of the tenant dwellers remained protected.

Bastis improved under this programme are today once again facing acute deficiencies in services. Toilets constructed to be used by 25 people, may today be used by as many as 300-400 people. Maintenance of the infrastructure is a major problem. Overcrowding is rife. Since the mid-1980’s, improvement works in bastis have been the responsibility of the local municipal bodies. Drainage or sanitation improvement works are the sole responsibility of the local body, which is not in a position to undertake these. Given the chronic fund shortages in the local bodies, and severe institutional malfunctioning, today bastis are under acute stress. It is likely that bastis will simply degenerate further. The whole question of basti conditons, and the issue of initiating sustainable improvements - is a very pertinent one.