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India's urban poverty in Agra slums

Oct 14, 2008

Situated along the banks of river Yamuna, the northern Indian city of Agra takes pride in being the land of the Taj Mahal. But behind this veneer, lie the poverty and squalor of numerous slums. A USAID survey reveals the inhuman living conditions of the urban poor with low progress on MDGs.

Agra, spread over 140 sq. km. along the banks of the river Yamuna in western Uttar Pradesh, is a good example of a fast growing million plus city. It is India’s premier tourist destination – in 2007-08 it witnessed an inflow of 2.7 million foreign tourists bringing in revenue of US$ 2.3 million to the Taj Mahal alone.(1)

Agra also has a sizeable urban poor population, mostly residing in its burgeoning slums. A slum situation analysis and baseline study conducted by USAID-EHP in Agra in 2005 (2) revealed the extent of urban poverty in the city. The population living in slums or squatter settlements was estimated at 8.41 lakh, which is about 50% of the city’s total population.

This is much higher than official estimates. A major reason for under-estimation of slum population is that large numbers of slums are illegal and unlisted in official records. Unlisted slums generally remain outside the purview of health and other civic services by virtue of not being recognized by the authorities, and are thereby deprived of even those basic services and entitlements made available to population residing in notified slums.

As per the official slum list of Agra available with the District Urban Development Agency (DUDA), the city had 252 slums. In fact, the actual slums in Agra were found to number 393, inclusive of 178 slums not contained in the slum list. When categorized by vulnerability criteria, all unlisted slums were found to be either most vulnerable (93) or moderately vulnerable (85).

Poor living conditions

Slums live constantly under the threat of demolition and eviction. Rampu Ki Jhopri is an example of a slum which was demolished and relocated at a further distance from its original location. Now the open space is used by the urban poor to tie up cattle owned by them and for drying dung cakes.

Sanitation is the most pressing issue in a majority of slums with situations varying from existence of individual toilets which lead into open drains to a total absence of individual or public toilet facility. Public toilets provided in slums suffer from lack of regular cleaning, rendering them unusable. This is visible in slums like Nala Mantola, Nagla Bhavani Singh and Ghatiya Mamu Bhanja.

Children defecate in drains in most slums. Drains are open and narrow, which remain blocked due to disposal of solid waste and absence of regular cleaning. In Rampu Ki Jhopri, Gopalpura and Takht Gumbaz Pehelwan, open spaces are used for sewage and garbage disposal, creating an extremely unhealthy environment.

Public taps and hand pumps provided in slums often dry up in summers, leaving residents dependent on ground water for meeting their basic needs. Water quality is poor. At times residents access the drinking water by inserting utensils or pipes through the wastewater itself. 

Health and nutritional status

The Agra Baseline Survey (3) collected information from 3,075 households across 166 slums on selected indicators to assess the reproductive and child health status of the slum population. Key findings are presented here on selected MDG indicators for which information was available from the survey.

MDG 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
Half of the slum children below two years of age were underweight, while 19% were severely underweight.

MDG 4: Reduce Child Mortality
Poor infant feeding practices and high prevalence of infectious diseases threaten child survival among slum children. For example, only three percent infants were breastfed within one hour of birth and colostrum was fed to only 23 percent infants.

Prevalence of diarrhoea was reported for 35-40 percent of children below 2 years of age. Only 28 percent children aged 12-23 months had received all recommended vaccinations, including BCG and three doses of DPT and polio, besides measles.

MDG 5: Improve Maternal Health

About half of the deliveries in slums took place at home, majority of which were attended by dais/ traditional birth attendants, or by relatives/friends. This has grave implications on maternal and neonatal survival.

Current use of modern methods of family planning was reported by only about a quarter of the currently married women. The proportion not using any method (64 percent) was highest among married women aged 15-19 years. This implies greater adolescent fertility among slum women, putting to risk life of both mothers and children.

About 30 percent of the women who delivered during two years prior to the survey did not receive any antenatal care, while 26 percent received antenatal care but less than 3 ANC visits.

However, only three percent slum women received complete antenatal care, which includes three ANC checkups, two TT injections and consumption of 100 IFA tablets. This reflects on the poor quality of antenatal care available to the slum women.

MDG 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Piped water supply was available to only 7 percent of the slum households. 78 percent of them depended on public taps for water.
About 63 percent of the slum households use some kind of flush toilet facility, largely pit toilets and septic tanks, while 33 percent defecate in the open.

Addressing the challenges

The situation of the urban poor in Agra echoes their plight in similar cities across India. In spite of their vital contribution to the city’s economy, the urban poor do not receive the benefits of city life. Their isolation is manifested in slums, which are a reflection of inequality and social exclusion in urban areas.

To address the challenges faced by the urban poor in cities like Agra, it is essential to:

  • Identify and map the listed and unlisted slums in the city for realistic evidence based planning
  • Strengthen services with a focus on vulnerable urban poor settlements;
  •  Explore innovative approaches to expand breadth of affordable services among vulnerable slums – both public and private;
  •  Influence community demand for services and link community with  providers to address the increased demand sufficiently;
  •  Help slum communities organize themselves to negotiate change through collective action;
  •  Assist local governments in prioritizing slum development with adequate resources, capacities and orientation to work for improved services to slums.
  •  Such efforts can be instrumental in improving the lot of the urban  poor, without which achieving the MDGs is extremely unlikely in India.



  1. Ministry of tourism & culture press release on June 9 2008.
  2. USAID-EHP. 2005. Situational Analysis Report of Agra City for Guiding Urban Health Program. New Delhi: USAID-EHP
  3. ORG-CSR. 2005. Child Health Survey in Slums of Agra. Final Report submitted to EHP-Urban Health Program. New Delhi: ORG-CSR
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