Project at a glance

  • Qualitative interviews and household-level quantitative surveys in slums across India to assess impact of slum notification
  • Surveys in rural villages to examine migration patterns
  • Ethnographic research in slums across cities in India to understand different strategies of governance and collective action
  • Data collection on heat patterns through drone imaging of slum areas to measure indicators of wealth

Why this study

According to the 2011 census, almost 65.5 million Indians live in slums, and population growth in major Indian cities is increasingly happening in the urban peripheries. As urbanization intensifies—India’s urban population is projected to grow by 250 million between 2008 and 2030, taking the total to 590 million—it is increasingly important to understand governance and communal life in these informal settlements so as to refine policy solutions to improve quality of life.

Broad objectives of the project:

  • Improve understanding of the policy impact of slum notification and rehabilitation on all stakeholders, including government, landowners, squatters, and renters;
  • Build more nuanced understanding of governance and collective action processes in slums through interdisciplinary research;
  • Develop cutting-edge methodologies for studying slums to bolster research across international academic communities;
  • Share research findings with policy-makers as well as public and academic audiences, through publications and presentations in policy, public, and academic fora

Survey data collected in Mumbai slums will examine the effects of slum notification on wealth distribution in slums. The research team will also conduct surveys in rural villages to understand why people do or do not decide to migrate to cities. A team of Research Assistants will conduct ethnographic research in slums across several cities to provide fine-grained understandings of the economic life of slums, revealing dynamics that are difficult to capture in quantitative surveys.

Additionally, drone imaging across slums and rural villages will generate insights on what metrics such remotely collected data can measure. Together, these research components will produce a multi-faceted understanding of social and economic development in slums.


The project uses municipal census on slums and site visits to assign slums into three categories: slums where homes are largely made of concrete; slums where homes are largely made of temporary materials like tarp, mud or tin (even walls); slums that have a mix of these two types of construction. Additionally, for each city, a memo is written on the history of and the law and policy governing slums. From each category, researchers choose one slum, which is representative of some dimensions other than housing quality.

In each type of slum, researchers conduct 20 household-level interviews of residents and interviews of about 10 other stakeholders like community leaders, politicians, bureaucrats, NGOs, or activists. These interviews are guided by a list of questions on each of the four topics listed below.

  1. How do slums emerge? Why do millions of people live in housing without formal legal rights to land or structures? The project is trying to understand the factors that create the demand and supply of informal housing.
  2. How do slums function? Or, more specifically, how are public goods and common resources like sanitation, electricity networks, and water produced in India’s slums?
  3. How do slums affect economic welfare of residents? To address this question, the project will move beyond simply documenting whether people make more money after moving to slums. It will also work to understand how life in slums affects development of human capital, financial inclusion, social mobility, and inequality.
  4. What are the current reform policies? The project will explore four broad kinds of reforms targeted at slums in India.