Department of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology of the RWTH Aachen University

Slums and Squatters

Indian cities are often associated with the existence of large slum areas whose inhabitants live in self constructed dwellings under very poor economic and environmental conditions.


According to the National Sample Survey (NSS) Organisation of the Indian Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation a slum is a compact settlement with a collection of poorly built tenements, mostly of temporary nature. These housings usually are very crowded and in unhygienic conditions, without adequate water supply and sanitary facilities.

Surface Water in a Slum Area

This definition includes big parts of the Indian cities’ old towns, which are extremely congested urban areas with a high degree of poverty and social disorganization. So a residential building, that once has been erected under legal conditions but today is marked by deterioration can be declared as a slum.

Squatter camp in Hyderabad

Squatter Area

The very poor in urban agglomerations, who often just recently have moved from a rural area to the city, usually squat on vacant land, private or public, in order to fulfil the basic need for shelter. Without financial or social resources they have no other possibility than to illegally occupy an undeveloped piece of land and without any official permission build a simple accommodation out of temporary material. This type of settlement, which has developed without any legal claims on the vacated land, is called squatter settlement and in India is also referred to as Bastee. Due to their formation, squatter settlements only have very low levels of basic services and infrastructure like water supply, sanitation, electricity, roads, schools, markets etc.

Squatter Area Along a Street in Hyderabad

Having realized the inevitability of squatting in urban areas the public authorities have developed different approaches towards squatter settlements in order to improve their living conditions by providing basic services and giving them tenurial rights (thereby becoming a “notified slum”) so that squatters don’t  face the threat of eviction and are willing to invest in more permanent housings built of bricks for example.

So the term slum considers the environmental aspects of a residential area, whereas squatter especially refers to land ownership and the legality of a settlement. A squatter settlement usually always fulfils the definition of a slum but a slum doesn’t necessarily have to be an informal settlement.

Kilian Christ
Kilian Christ, PhD Student, RWTH Aachen University, Department of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology, See all posts from Kilian Christ
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